Monday, February 26, 2007

Hoopla! - Episode 10: Marvel's Solicitations for May 2007

Hello and welcome to Hoopla! This week we've got a ton of good stuff, including a bunch
of reviews, a look at upcoming projects from Marvel and a few words about DC's recently announced sequel to 52, Countdown.

First, though, I want to let y'all know that Zoetrope is currently working on the Speed Racer Rock Opera. Some songs are better than others, but I highly recommend the The Ballad of Racer X in particular. And you can find it at this link. And yes, I've just created a link.

Yay for me!!!

Anyway, there's lots of interesting solicitations and reviews for this week but the big comic-book news this week is the recent announcement that DC is going to publish another 52-esque series titled Countdown.

Similarities to 52:

Countdown, like 52, will be a weekly series that lasts one year.


52 had Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Geoff Johns and Greg Rucka as writers. That's one superb writer, two very good, and one used-to-be-great-but-now-merely-okay.

Countdown has Paul Dini doing the overall plot, but scripting by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, Adam Beechem, Sean McKeever, and Tony Bedard.

Palmiotti and Gray are consistently okay, in my opinion. Whenever they start a new series, it gets some good press, I pick up a couple of issues and then I think, "Huh. Well, that didn't suck..." and then I don't buy more.

Beechem, I think, is probably the most unpopular writer DC currently has, so he's an interesting choice.

Sean McKeever is good, though not great, but he has stated repeatedly that he's never read any DC comics. He's a Marvel guy, through and through, and the only reason he's moved to DC is because they're offering him more of a headline title than Marvel has (that's my personal take on it... he hasn't said that). So, I'm not convinced that he's the guy to be doing a weekly series that encompasses everything going on in the DC universe.

And then there's Tony Bedard, whose work I mostly know from his incredibly uninspired, mediocre run on Exiles. Again, like Palmiotti and Gray and McKeever, I don't think he's bad, per se. He's not Bruce Jones. But I wouldn't really want to read a series written by any of these guys (as demonstrated by the fact that I'm not, in fact, reading a series by any of them) except Paul Dini.

Paul Dini is just fine. I like him. I'd buy him lunch and feel good about it. But he's 1/5 of the writing staff.

Furthermore, 52 was something that was planned for a long time. A lot of thought went into it. Countdown was an idea they had for some different one-shot specials that they were going to do throughout the year; it didn't become a weekly comic until they saw the huge amount of money they were making off of 52.

Also, two of the primary stars of Countdown are Jimmy Olson and Mary Marvel.

That does not excite me.

And, finally, 52 existed in its own space (a one-year period that the rest of the DC universe had skipped over) while Countdown will be very interactive with the rest of the DC universe, reflecting what's going on in various titles and such. Well, first of all, I find most of DC's regular titles pretty boring, so that's not a plus. More problematic, though, is that their books have been really off-schedule lately. Wonder Woman has come out about 5 times in the past year, the Superman titles are off-schedule, Batman keeps using fill-in stories to cover for late issues, Justice League of America has been running late, etc.

So, if you have a weekly series that's interacting with the rest of the comic-book universe, but those books keep coming out late, you're going to have to keep going back and rewriting parts of Countdown or else wind up with a huge continuity traffic-jam.

Oh, and the final thing that makes me think that Countdown isn't going to be very good is that in every interview I've read, when asked what Countdown is actually about, invariable one of the people being interviewed says, "Sh-t blows up."

Um, okay.

Anyway, that's an awful lot of words just to say that I'm not too excited about Countdown.

Enough of that.

Moving right along, let's get into some of Marvel's more interesting solicitations for May of 2007...


Written by C.B. Cebulski & David Sexton

Art and cover by Ricardo Tercio

In the tradition of X-Men Fairy Tales, Marvel makes its move on melding more modern myths, starting with Spider-Man! Our friendly neighborhood becomes a quaint village and Mary Jane fills the shoes of another famous red-head in this premiere issue as the tale of Little Red Riding Hood is retold with superhero sensibilities! Will Spider-Man be able to save her on her way to Aunt May's house? And just who is our Big Bad Wolf? Find out just how fun fairy tales can be... Marvel style!32 PGS./All Ages ...$2.99

I didn't pick up any of X-Men Fairy Tales and this really isn't my kind of thing, but damn that cover is neat looking. Might be worth picking up just for the art...

Speaking of nice cover art...

I haven't picked up a single issue of Hudlin's Black Panther series. For me, Christopher Priest's series was the definitive version of this character and nothing I've heard about Hudlin's work has really interested me.

But zombies...? I like the zombies. And that's a damn fine cover. So, I guess I'll give it a try...

I thought this next solicitation was worth mentioning because it's the first time an advertisement has persuaded me not to pick up a book that I was planning to buy.

Pencils and Cover by FRANK CHO
Mighty Avengers versus the next gen Ultron! Ultron has taken over everything by taking over Iron Man! And now she has to face the Sentry unleashed! A battle of the titans Avengers style! Plus, Tigra guest stars. Yes, Tigra. Frank Cho drawing Tigra!! Did you hear us? FRANK CHO DRAWING TIGRA!! Which Avenger is Tigra dating? Prrrrr!!32 PGS./Rated A …$2.99

For those of you who don't know, Frank Cho is famous for doing cheesecake art. And Tigra is a cat-woman. So, there you have it. It's the Marvel event of the 21st century.

I read that thing and I thought, "Why am I going to buy this series?"

And I couldn't think of a single reason. So, I dropped it from my pull list before the first issue's even come out.

It wasn't just the "FRANK CHO IS DRAWING TIGRA!!" or the "Prrrr!!", although those certainly helped. It's the whole thing. She-Ultron has taken over Iron Man and now she has to fight the Sentry.

That doesn't sound interesting. That doesn't sound like something I want to spend three dollars on.

And then there's the added intrigue of finding out which of the Avengers is dating Tigra... AS DRAWN BY FRANK CHO!!!

Oh, it makes me tired just thinking about it.

These next two covers are remarkably ugly. I think they deserve to be recognized for that.

That's all I really have to say about those.

Also worth mentioning is this...

Written by JEFF PARKER
From investigating haunted museums to dealing with lovesick dragon men, no mission is off limits for the original mutant heroes. See some of comics' top cartoonists take on Xavier's five!
48 PGS./Rated A …$3.99

I missed the first several issues of this limited series because it came out before I realized that Jeff Parker is everything that is good in comics, so now I'm waiting for the TPB to come out for those. But this here... this probably won't be in the TPB and look at those artists. Mike Allred??? Paul Smith??? Kevin Nowlan???


Well, there were a couple of other May solicitation things I was going to mention, but I've got CRADD today (Comic-Book Related Attention Deficit Disorder) so I'm going to move on to some reviews...

Try and stop me, if you dare...

The Dark Tower #1
Written by Stephen King

Script by Peter David
Art by Jae Lee

Published by Marvel Comics

Marvel has been promoting the heck out of this thing for some time, due to its being written by Stephen King and all. And if it ends up bringing more people into comics and is therefore good for the comic-book industry, well, so much the better. I wish them the best.

In the interest of full disclosure, however, I should mention that I hate Stephen King's writing. I find his characters to be two-dimensional cliches and his dialogue is pretty lame. And, too, there's the fact that Stephen King decided to remake The Shining because he felt that Kubrick's version didn't quite capture the essence of the book. And, too, he's remade Lars Von Trier's The Kingdom which, if you've ever seen the original, is an act of such hubris that it turned my dislike of Stephen King into downright contempt.

That said, I love Jae Lee's art and will buy pretty much anything he works on.

What a conundrum!

So, I wound up ordering the first two issues and figured I'd see how it goes from there. And, having finally read the first issue, I think I'm going to let it drop after the second issue. As much as I enjoy Jae Lee's art, I just can't stand the whole Stephen King vibe.

For example, rather than develop the characters through their dialogue and actions, he just identifies the cliche that each one corresponds to.

Cuthbert Allgood, son of Robert. His constant stream of jokes and kind nature hide deep complexity and dark turns.

Alain Johns, son of Christopher. Despite his dullish looks, he is clever and sensitive, and has psychic skills called 'the touch.'

The over-narration continues throughout the story, explaining everything to us as we go along.

Remember how I spoke of Alain's having "the touch"? It serves him now, as an image of moments ago leaps at him like a crazed bumbler.

The image leaps at him?

Like a crazed bumbler?

See, that's another thing. His word choices make no sense at all.

But, whatever. I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy this and I wish them well. It's not terrible, by any means, and maybe if I didn't know that it was a Stephen King project, I wouldn't feel so blah about it. But, as things stand, this reads like a book that's been converted into a comic-book--which, in fact, it is. The narration tells us the story and how we're supposed to react to what's happening, rather than showing the reader what's happening and then leaving it to us interpret what we're seeing and to form our own opinions about the various characters and their decisions. Jae Lee's art is very nice, meanwhile, but it's certainly not his most dynamic work.

So, I say "Eh."

And you can quote me on that.

Iron Man: Hypervelocity #2
Written by Adam Warren
Art by Brian Denham
Published by Marvel Comics

One of the the first reviews I did for this run of Hoopla! was of the first issue of this limited series. I didn't like it.

Through the magic of pre-ordering, however, I've ended up with the second issue as well. On the plus side, this issue they at least fill in the reader on what the story is about. The first issue was just Iron Man being shot at over and over again, briefly hallucinating a mysterious woman in lingerie, and then finally blowing up and -- ta daa! -- the suit was empty.

This issue, we learn that the reason it was empty was because Tony Start created it to be able to sort of think and then the suit made the cognitive leap and became an independent thinker, nearly killing Stark and then racing off.

Same old, same old.

Then, however, a few pages later we learn that what really happened was that Tony Stark was attacked by someone else, downloaded his consciousness into the new armor, and then someone made it look like the armor had attacked Stark and then run away.

So, I guess that's an interesting twist, but it might have been more effective if it hadn't been explained just a few pages after we were told that the armor was evil. This way, we didn't really get a chance to take in the new status quo (the armor is evil) before it was replaced with another new status quo (the armor is Tony Stark and it's been framed).

Of course, one wonders why Tony Stark/new armor doesn't just tell someone what happened so they'll stop shooting at him. Maybe he can't talk because his body isn't actually in the armor? But then, why doesn't he write it down somewhere. Or stand still, put his hands up, and let them know that he's not the enemy?

Of course, none of it really matters anyway because this story is just dull. The problem isn't the holes in the plot; the problem is that there's nothing interesting going on here. Lots of pseudo-techno jargon as the armor does different stuff and lots of missles being fired and things being blown up, but nothing you can really get too worked up about emotionally.



Well, I'm afraid people are going to start calling me Mr. Grumpy-pants, so here are some quick reviews of a few comics that I'm very much enjoying...

Ultimate Spider-Man #105
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Mark Bagley
Published by Marvel

A very nice epilogue to the Clone Sage. I really wasn't expecting much from this storyline, but I think that it's probably my favorite since the early days of the series. I really like that they didn't undo Aunt May's learning his secret identity, which would have been a cheat, and there have been enough changes to the status quo to sort of freshen up the series. Which, frankly, it needed.

Nice job all around.

The Irredeemable Ant-Man #5
Written by Robert Kirkman
Art by Phil Hester and Ande Parks
Published by Marvel

This series is rapidly becoming a favorite. I love the first page synopsis provided by the two ants, the battle between the two Ant-Men, Eric's jerkiness with Veronica, and the whole poker-night scene.

Funny, funny stuff!

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil #1
by Jeff Smith
Published by DC

Every bit as good as I'd hoped. I particularly loved the panel of the subway train pulling up. What an awesome subway car! And it's both hilarious and morbid that the Wizard's legs are sticking out from under the huge rock that has crushed him.

Jeff Smith (creator of Bone) really took his time on this project; it's been years since it was first announced. I'm glad he did, though. It looks beautiful and the story is a lot of fun.

Yay for Shazam!!!


Digression: I was hoping to have picked up Civil War #7 by now so I could do a review of it and the whole Civil War extravaganza, but I've been sick as a dog lately and getting out to the comic-book store simply wasn't an option.

In fact, I've been quite sick for about two months now, which is a heck of a long time. Everyone kept telling me "Go see a doctor!" but, like most people in this world, I don't really like to go to the doctor. My experience has been that doctors generally have no idea what's wrong with you and can't really afford the time to ask you questions and figure it out, so invariably they diagnose some antibiotics and send you back home.

Anyway, I'd finally missed so many classes and so much work that I pretty much had to go see a doctor, just to show that I was doing everything in my power to get better. So, I went. The doctor spent about ten minutes with me, diagnosed me with walking pneumonia, prescribed antibiotics and sent me home.

I like that it's walking pneumonia, incidentally. When I looked it up on the internet, it turns out that walking pneumonia isn't as bad as regular pneumonia, but I think it sounds much more exotic and awful. Walking Pneumonia sounds like some lurching, zombie-like disease, stalking innocent civilians and infecting them.

Beware... the Walking Pneumonia!!!

Well, the good news is that the antibiotics have actually started kicking in and today I woke up feeling a bazillion times better. The bad part of this, though, is that it means that I'm a big dummy and if I'd just gone to the doctor about two months ago, I could have spared myself all this misery.



Well, that's all we have time for this week... I was going to have a super-special-bonus surprise for you next week, but I think I'm going to save that for when I'm away on Spring Break. Instead, we may have the Civil War review, if I actually make it out to the store. Who the hell knows? Oh, and there are some upcoming comics from Image that I wanted to mention because they look potentially interesting.

And... I don't know. Some other stuff. I just don't what it is yet. I mean, what am I? A psychic? Is that what you think? You want me to just look in my little magic crystal ball and tell you the future?! Well, I can't. So, just... just back off.

Anyway, until then, I hope you have a great week and that the Walking Pneumonia doesn't getcha!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Hoopla! - Episode 9: Why I hate Jet Blue Airlines - PLUS: DC's solicitations for May 2007

Hello and welcome to Hoopla!, the comic-book review column that dares to ask, is it "If you think [X], then you've got another think coming!" or is it "If you think [X], then you've got another thing coming!"? Because, I always used to think that it was "'ve got another think coming!" and that the idea behind the phrase was that your first thought/think is wrong, so now it's time for a new thought/think. But, lately I keep reading books and comics that say "'ve got another thing coming!" and I don't get it. What's the thing that's coming? What kind of thing is it? Why does that make sense?

Anyway, in an ideal world, I'd be in Boston right now, presenting at the Harvard Business School. Ah, but this is not an ideal world, and here I am, still in Virginia, getting a head start on this week's Hoopla! column. Which, if you scroll down just a bit, is going to have comic-book reviews and a look at DC's solicitations for May of 2007 and all sorts of fun stuff...

But first...

Listen closely, and I'll tell you my tale of woe...

So, the conference was supposed to begin on Friday, around noon. Just to be safe, I decided to leave--along with my partner in crime, Michelle--early Thursday, just in case there were any problems with the flight.

Oh, the bitter irony...

So, we get there early and Jet Blue tells us that our 6:30 pm flight has been delayed six hours but will leave a little after midnight. "It's going to take a while," the smiling attendant told us, "But we'll get you there eventually."

Okay. Now see if you can guess how this story ends...

That's right! Shortly after midnight, Jet Blue announced that the delayed flight was now cancelled. Hurray for Number None!!!

People were pretty angry, I can tell you. Something about waiting in the airport for six hours for no goddamn reason really kind of upset everyone.

Jet Blue didn't feel it was necessary to provide us with vouchers or anything for the inconvenience, but what they did do is to provide those who wanted with a ticket leaving at 6:45 in the morning the following day.

You know that cartoon where Charlie Brown keeps running to kick the football even though every single time Lucy pulls it away at the last moment? Well, Jet Blue is the Lucy of airlines. Because, guess what?

The 6:45 a.m. flight was also cancelled.

So, here's my special thank you to Jet Blue for making me miss my opportunity to present a paper at the Harvard Business School and for making me waste almost an entire day in the frickin' airport.

The extra-great thing is that my hotel was going to be paid for by the conference, but since I didn't actually make it to the conference, they aren't going to pay for it. So, for the hotel room that I didn't use on Thursday night, I now owe $215.00.

Oh, Jet Blue, how I loathe you...


Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk comics...

This week we're going to take a look at the DC solicitations for May 2007 (we'll do Marvel's next week) and review a couple of books, including Civil War: The Return.

Let's get started, shall we...?

The first thing that struck me, looking over the books coming out in May, is what a crappy month it is forDC. Most of the books that I'm really enjoying aren't coming out (Superman Confidential, All-Star Superman, Justice, Brave and Bold, etc.) and those that are coming out don't look so good.

[eg., Detective Comics is a fill-in issue by a different writer. Fortunately, they've come up with this generic cover to warn potential readers off...]

This leaves the DC Dregs. And how very dreggy they are!

Green Arrow - (AKA the book that wants to be Ex Machina) Who reads this? This is one of those books that you get the feeling every month they're struggling to figure out where to go with it. And the fact that Judd Winick is currently writing it does not help a bit. I really liked Winick's Pedro and Me, but that was a long, long time ago. Since then, he has consistently put out dull, substandard super-hero book. And always with at least one character who is gay and/or HIV positive. It was okay the first few times, but it's become a little bit ridiculous. We get it, Winick. There are gay people and there are people who are HIV positive and diversity is a wonderful thing. Lesson learned. Now, please, move on...

The Flash: Fastest Man Alive: The powers that be have really made a mess of this, removing the title character and replacing him with Bart Allen. Here's a tip, DC. Having a character abruptly aged or de-aged is never-ever-ever interesting. Think of when Tony Stark was turned into a teenager. Ugh. Or when the Atom was de-aged into a teenager and was with the Teen Titans. Blech! Bart Allen as Impulse, back in the early days of his series, was a great character. Later, he became a bit less interesting as writers tried to "mature" him, which completely undermined everything that made the character unique. But, whatever. Now, however, they've prematurely aged him into a sulking teenager. Just what the DC Universe desperately needed... one more confused, angst-filled teen.

Nightwing: Why is it so hard to find someone who can write a decent story with this character? Chuck Dixon made it look so easy...

Robin: Ditto.

Outsiders: Don't even get me started...

Teen Titans: I was enjoying this for a while, but now it's sort of fizzled out. Jericho's return didn't exactly help matters, either. In fact, I was so utterly underwhelmed by his return from the dead, that I totally forgot it had happened in the one month it took for the next issue to come out, so when I opened that next issue and saw him there, I thought I was reading a flashback sequence for the first few pages.

The fact that Beechen is taking over the writing chores does not bode particularly well for this title, given his mediocre work on Robin, but I suppose we'll have to wait and see...

Aquaman: Um, yeah. I think that in this issue he swims. And talks to some fish.

Checkmate: You know, I can remember back when Greg Rucka was writing great comics. Seriously. His stories during that whole "No Man's Land" storyline in the Bat-books, and for about two years afterwards were excellent. And the first several years of Queen andCountry (back when it came out a bit more often and was a lot less formulaic) were superb. Nowadays, though, he just seems to be stuck in a rut. Checkmate isn't a bad book, per se, but it's certainly not a great one. If Checkmate were one of my students, I'd probably give it a B- or a C+. Maybe a C for the Crappy Cover.

Trials of Shazam: Not the Shazam story by Jeff Smith that everyone's enjoying, but the one by Judd Winick that no one likes. The one that is trying to make the Marvel family more grim and realistic. Whatever...

Supergirl: Ick. Poor quality and in poor taste.

Hawkgirl: Who would have thought that Walt Simonson and Howard Chaykin, working together, could have produced something so totally mediocre? Not me...

I think the managerial folk over at DC need to spend a little less time on huge, cosmic events (they've got another one coming up soon, apparently) and a little more time fixing their monthly titles, because they are not looking good. I'm enjoying Justice Society of America quite a lot and also Dini's Detective Comics, but those are the only in-continuity DC titles I can think of that I'm really into. Morrison's Batman is okay, but it's nothing special. Oh, and I have been enjoying 52, but that's ending soon.

There are a couple of bright spots in DC's solicitations for May 2007, however. First of all, from the Minx line of books, comes this...

Nice, eye-catching cover. Let's see what the good folks at DC have to say about this...

RE-GIFTERS Written by Mike Carey Art and cover by Sonny Liew & Marc Hempel

The Minx imprint continues with a new project by the creative team of MY FAITH IN FRANKIE — writer Mike Carey (CROSSING MIDNIGHT, HELLBLAZER) and artists Sonny Liew & Marc Hempel! Meet Jen Dik Seong — or "Dixie" as she's known to her friends. Korean American, dirt poor, and living on the ragged edge of LA's Koreatown, Dixie's only outlet is the ancient martial art of hapkido. In fact, she's on the verge of winning a championship — until she falls for fellow California surfer boy Adam and gets thrown spectacularly off her game. As she struggles to win the tournament — not to mention Adam's affections — Dixie learns that in love and in gift-giving, what goes around comes around.This title also includes free previews of the Minx titles THE PLAIN JANES, CLUBBING and GOOD AS LILY. Advance-solicited; on sale June 13 / 176 pg, B&W, $9.99 US

Hmm. Sounds like it could go either way. The thing that makes me think this might be very good indeed, however, is that it's by the same team as My Faith In Frankie, which was a four-issue Vertigo series that I absolutely loved. I wish they'd put previews online for these Minx books, though, as 10 dollars is a lot of money for something that I know almost nothing about.

The other thing in DC's May Solicitations that made me smile was this...

This is the cover for The Batman Strikes!, which is based on a cartoon that I know nothing about. I've never had any interest in this particular title before, but I just might pick this up...

THE BATMAN STRIKES! #33 Written by Jai Nitz Art by Christopher Jones & Terry BeattyCover by Dave McCaig

Poison Ivy’s figured out the perfect way to get Batman out of her way…make The Batman into a Batboy! A now-young Bruce Wayne will have to fight alongside Batgirl and Robin through Poison Ivy’s plant army and puberty! On sale May 9 • 32 pg, FC, $2.25 US

Batboy looks pretty damn cute on that cover!

Okay, time for some comic-book reviews...

Civil War: The Return
Written by Paul Jenkins
Art by Tom Raney and Scott Hanna

I've been avoiding reading this comic because of all the extremely negative reviews it's gotten. So, there it sat, in my pile of unread comics... like a turd that cannot be flushed down the toilet but which, instead, simply floats back to the top, over and over again. Never going away.

Sure, sometimes the reviewers are wrong, but there seemed to be an overwhelming consensus about this one.

I'll admit it... I was scared.

And, as it turns out, with good reason...

The premise of Civil War: The Return is that a character who's been dead for about 20 or 30 years (in real time, that is, not Marvel Universe time) suddenly returns for no good reason. There was a time when the three examples of characters that had been killed off that would never-ever-ever be brought back were Bucky, Captain Marvel, and Uncle Ben.

Well, Ed Brubaker brought back Bucky a couple of years ago and now Paul Jenkins has given us the The Return of Captain Marvel. And one wonders why he has done this thing...

In the case of Brubaker bringing back Bucky, it's clear that he has a love of the character (god only know why) and had some actual plans for the character's return. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision to bring him back (and I disagree with it, personally) there was clearly a purpose behind it. It wasn't done lightly.

This does not appear to be the case with the return of Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel died of cancer in a graphic novel; it might have been the very first graphic novel from one of the big two publishing companies, I believe, although I could be mistaken about that. Anyway, the story was written and illustrated by Jim Starlin and it was a very personal story for him; apparently someone close to him had recently died of cancer and this was his way of processing it.

I haven't gone back and read the story in a long time, but it certainly made an impression on me at the time. It is, I think most comic-book nerds would agree, a classic. And ever since that story was published, there has been an understanding that this was one death that would never be reversed. The impact of the story was simply too big for that. Captain Marvel was far more important to the Marvel Universe in his death than he would have ever been if his story had continued along, much like Barry Allen's death has been a pivotal event in the DC universe.


The story behind Civil War: The Return, inasmuch as it could be said to have a story, is this:

Shortly before Captain Marvel's death, we are told, he was sitting around in outer space and his attention was drawn to "a minisculue anomaly--a crease in a seam of the fabric of time and space." Captain Marvel touched it and was instantly transported into present-day Marvel Universe. The Sentry (who is retroactively a good friend of his) and Iron Man are delighted to see their old friend back from the dead and ask him if he'd mind being the warden of their Negative Zone prison that they're using in the Civil War storyline. Captain Marvel agrees, though he knows that someday he'll go back to his own time and die of cancer.

The end.

One wonders, of course, why the Sentry and Iron Man, upon seeing their old friend miraculously returned to them, would then ask him to be the warden of their outer-space prison. Seems like kind of a cold-hearted welcome, if you ask me.

"Hey, that's great that you're back from the dead! We really missed you! Say, now that you're here and you're not really doing anything, how would you like to watch over this space-prison for us? A lot of your old friends are inside the prisons, but you don't need to worry about that..."

Even more baffling, why would he agree to do it? It makes no sense at all for Captain Marvel to want to get involved in the Civil War storyline and help imprison many of his old allies. Plus, you'd think he'd other things on his mind... like trying to find a way to prevent his death or at least to make the most of this second chance he's been given. But, no.

Civil War: The Return is every bit as lame as I'd heard. And I'm not even going to talk about the back-up story about how the Sentry learned a very valuable lesson while fighting the Absorbing Man. It does not deserve comment.

So, yes, this is a very bad comic. I can't imagine who thought this would be a good idea or why they would choose to do it this way.

Comic-books make my head hurt sometimes.

Fantastic Four #542
Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Art by Mike McKone, Andy Lanning, and Cam Smith
Published by Marvel Comics

First of all, the only reason I bought this comic-book is because of Dwayne McDuffie. I don't know how many of you would remember a comic-book company that existed about a decade ago called Milestone Comics, but their whole shtick was that they were a multi-racial company producing comics with multi-racial characters. Some have hypothesized that that's why the company eventually folded (I've also heard some pretty good conspiracy theories about how DC set them up to fail so that DC could get all of their characters).

At any rate, Milestone published only a handful of titles but they were all pretty excellent, and one of my favorites was Icon. Icon was written by Dwayne McDuffie and the premise was a Superman-like character was sent off in a rocket through outer space, eventually landing on Earth. This alien was designed to mimic the appearance of the species that found it, which in this case meant that he was not only human, but he was a black human. Which, given the time period when he landed, which wasn't such a great deal for him.

So, Icon pretended to be a normal black slave living in the southern United States shortly before the Civil War. And time passed on and, since he didn't age at a normal pace, he eventually gained his freedom and, after several decades, made a small fortune for himself. At the time that the comic began, he'd become a rather conservative, upper middle-class African American male with very little tolerance for blacks who complained about being oppressed but who, to his mind, really had it pretty damn easy compared to what he'd been through.

Icon soon met a teenage girl, whose name eludes me at the moment, but she discovered that he had Superman-esque super-powers and got on his case to use them for something other than sitting on his big butt. And she became his sidekick, Rocket. And the gimmick was that he was a conservative, she was a liberal, and they had adventures and stuff but they also learned a lot from each other.

It was a damn good series.

Anyway, Dwayne McDuffie is a writer whose work I find consistently enjoyable and somewhat provocative. He's no Alan Moore, sure, but I would rank him up there with Kurt Busiek or Mark Waid when they're at their best. So, when I heard he was taking over Fantastic Four, a title I don't normally follow or care much about, I decided to give it a try.

Glad I did.

The premise of this issue is pretty simple. In the midst of all the Civil War zany antics, we get a look at why Reed Richards has chosen to side with the pro-registration people. The explanation is sort of interesting, but the real fun of the issue is watching Richards' interactions with the other characters in the book, most especially Johnny Storm and the Mad Thinker. One reason I enjoy McDuffie's writing so much is that he's able to get across a lot of character in just a few words/pages. As in Icon, McDuffie manages to write several characters who all have very different perspectives, but the story is equally sympathetic to all of them. You don't get the sense that he's trying to tell you which answer is the correct one or who is good and who is bad; just like in real life, everyone believes that they're doing the right thing and for the very best reasons.

Marvel has tried to drum up some interest in this title by raising the question of who is actually going to be on the team in the future (although this 'mystery' has kind of flopped since the solicitations for Marvel's books coming out in May already answers the question before it's even come up in the book itself). Personally, I don't care who's on the team. As long as Dwayne McDuffie is writing it, I'm there.


Next Week: A look at Marvel's solicitations for May and also some upcoming books from Image that actually look interesting. And, of course, more comic-book reviews including, possibly, the final issue of Civil War.

The week after that will be something very, very special that has nothing at all to do with comics. It's a surprise.

In the meantime, I leave you with this cover from Marvel's May solicitations...

I guess he must have flown with Jet Blue too...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hoopla! - Episode 8: Beware... The Ivy!!!

Hello and welcome to Hoopla!, the comic-book review column that hopes someday to be known as the Fancy-Pants-Dan of comic-book review columns...

This week, we've got something kind of extra special... the debut of Ivy Smith, one of my all-time-favorite people and a very fine artist besides. As regular readers of Hoopla! know, I like to provide my own version of comic-book covers when possible... but the problem is that it takes me forever. In an ideal world, in which I am not wasting valuable time on things like my dissertation and going to conferences, I could really devote myself to the cover illustrations.

Alas, this is not that ideal world.

So, I have enlisted the help of my friend, Ivy, who I'm hoping will become a regular contributer to Hoopla! Later in this column, we'll have a brief interview with Ivy, but for now, here is her first comic-book cover for us...

For those of you who haven't been to a comic-book store lately, that's the cover to issue #3 of Superman Confidential, written by Darwyn Cooke with art by Tim Sale.

Let me tell you a little something about Superman Confidential...

Some of the best writers (and artists too, I suppose) are the ones who make it look the easiest. Think of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm on Batman: The Animated Adventures. What they did certainly wasn't revolutionary. It wasn't, as people are inordinately fond of saying, rocket science.

But, actually, it was.

They managed to distill the very essence of the characters and the stories and to leave out all the unnecessary crap that had latched onto the Batman mythos over the past 70 or so years. They took something that the very best writers/artists struggle with and make it look easy.

And fun.

Cooke and Sale have managed the same thing with their story-arc in Superman Confidential. It's set in the early years of Superman, before he really knew what he was capable of and back when he and Lois Lane were just beginning to get to know each other.

It's the very essence of a great, big, fun Superman story.

It's got big action-packed scenes, romance (with Lois, natch!), tragedy, heart-to-hearts with Ma and Pa Kent, and a sense of wonder and innocence that ought to be a given in any Superman story.

Now, if only we could get the same kind of thing in the regular, monthly titles... sigh.

Silent War
Written by David Hines
Art by Frazer Irving

This book hasn't gotten much reaction online; I suppose it's at least in part because Marvel already has two other, much bigger wars going on (Civil War and the whole Annihilation thing). People can only process so many wars at once and this one has received the least hype. It's too bad, though, because this looks to be a pretty good book...

The premise is pretty simple. The Inhumans are a clan of human-like beings who, at a certain age, expose themselves to the Terrigen Mists, which "releases" their super-powers/mutations. You might come of the Mists with telepathy or super strength or, if you're unlucky, you might come out with three heads and pus spilling out of your pores. There's no way to know before you enter the Mists and how it changes you determines your role in society from that point on.

Oh, and they live on the moon.

Incidentally, if you want to read the best Inhumans story ever, there's a 12-issue series written by Paul Jenkins with phenomenal art by Jae Lee; it's pretty much sheer bliss. It's titled The Inhumans, cleverly enough, and yes, it's available as a TPB.

Anyway, the set-up for Silent War is that in a previous story (Son of M, also written by David Hines) the Terrigen Mists were stolen and brought to Earth. The Inhumans managed to track them down, but the U.S. government had already gotten ahold of the Mists and decided that they wanted to hold on to them. At which point, the Inhumans declared war with the humans.

Which brings us to Silent War.

The first issue of the limited series (six issues) is about Gorgon, one of the Inhumans' warriors, leading a small group on a limited attack. The idea is to attack the public at a performance of The Tempest, put the fear of god into them, announce that they want their frickin' Terrigen Mists back ASAP or else things are going to get a lot worse.

Things quickly go awry.

As the attack is being televised and transmitted all over the country by the Inhumans, things quickly spin out of control and one of the Inhumans ends up 'accidentally' killing several of the audience.

[Great art by Frazer Irving on that part, as people's heads are popped off their bodies. Whoops!]

Gorgon leads the group of Inhumans out of there but they're soon confronted by the Fantastic Four, who are more than a little bit pissed off, and a battle ensues.

A couple of things really stand out about the first issue of this series. One thing is Frazer Irving's art. He's sort of an odd choice for this title but his art is quite lovely. The facial expressions on the audience that's attacked are wonderful and the initial appearance of the Fantastic Four is downright creepy. As a matter of fact, everything is creepy. Irving's art is a bit wasted on the action scenes, though he certainly does those well, but it's the quiet moments that are really most effective.

Another thing that I enjoyed about the book is the way it alludes to and comments on current events (on this world, that is... not in the Marvel Universe). One of the reasons that Gorgon's plan doesn't work is that the audience immediately latches onto the idea that the Inhumans are terrorists and so, rather than sit back meekly and listen to Gorgon's demands, they attack. And the second half of the book, after Gorgon has been captured and is being interrogated by the creepiest looking government official of all time, there are numerous allusions to the way the Bush administration has changed the rules of war.


Gorgon: I don't believe that your government has sanctioned this. There are rules governing the treatment of prisoners.

Scary Government Guy: You mean the Geneva Conventions? Perhaps you should read what the convention has to say on the subject of slaughtering civilians. Besides, you are illegal combatants. Terrorists.

Or this...

Scary Government Guy: I am sick and tired of being told that I have to respect other cultures while those cultures are doing their level best to destroy my own.

I have very little patience for comics that try to create ridiculous parallels between real world events and super-hero antics (see, for example, those god-awful back-up stories in Civil War: Front Line), but this simply uses the real-world situation as a context in which this story is taking place. Real current events help explain the reactions of the various characters in the story to what the Inhumans are doing.

Finally, I just like that the conflict arises logically from the situation instead of being a contrived "misunderstanding" or "mind-control." Sure, Gorgon didn't intend for things to get out of hand the way they did, but it's not unrealistic that things would play out that way. They were playing a dangerous game, declaring war and trying to frighten the public into acquiesence. Tactics like that were inevitably going to lead to escalation on both parts.

Silent War is a good read. It's a neat conflict and I have no clear idea of where it's going. Because it's a story about the Inhumans, there's really no reason to assume that things will end with a return to the status quo.

And the art...? The art is good stuff. Lacking the technical know-how to actually scan the art for you to see, here's some of Irving's art from other projects. This will at least give you an idea of his style...

See? Creepy...

And now, as promised, an interview with Ivy...

What's your full name?

Ivy Adele Smith

And what grade are you currently in?

4th grade.

What have been your biggest artistic influences?

I have always loved the art museum, but mostly I copy different art styles from books, cartoons but mostly comics.

What got you interested in art?

I have always loved being creative so I loved art right away but when I found out you could get paid for it I practiced even more.

What comics are you reading? Which is your favorite and why?

I'm reading Teen Titans Go!; Sabrina; Lions, Tigers, and Bears; and Gimmels. Teen Titans is my favorite because I love the characters and the main story ideas and it's not a serial so I don't have to worry about missing one.

Hopefully we'll be seeing a lot more of Ivy's work in the future, even though I find it totally humbling that a 10-year old kid can draw better than I can...

Well, I'm afraid that brings us to the end of another Hoopla! I hope you all survived The Holiday That Dares Not Speak Its Name and will join us next week for some more comic-book reviews and a look at the books being solicited for May 2007.

Until then, I leave you with this important message from Batman...

Thursday, February 8, 2007

A very personal letter to you, the reader...

Dearest Reader,

I can't help but feel that I've let you down this week. The brevity of yesterday's column haunts me like a hitch-hiker who died a year ago from the day that you picked her up. For many of you, I know, the weekly Hoopla! column is more than just a source of comic-book reviews; it's a sacred pact. It's a promise from me, Paul Weissburg, to you, the readers.

And yesterday, by posting such a short column, I betrayed your trust. I broke the promise.

And so it is that I present you with the following. Originally, I was going to save it for a special occasion, like perhaps your birthday. But I think the time is right.

So, please sit back, relax, and enjoy.

See you next week...

- Paul

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Hoopla! - Episode 7: Haiku Review Boogaloo!!!

Hello and welcome to Hoopla!, the comic-book review column with zero grams of trans fat per serving!!!

I have to apologize in advance because this week's column is going to be a quickie... I've got a couple of conferences coming up where I'm supposed to present papers. This is very exciting, of course, but the problem is that the papers I'm supposed to present don't actually exist just yet.

Apparently, that's the way it's done... you send an abstract of an article to the conference organizers and then, if you're lucky, they say, "Yes. We will pay for your hotel and food; come and dance for us, little monkey!"

And then you write the frickin' paper.

Well, the good news is that my abstracts have gone over really well, but the not-so-good news is that now I have to write the papers that they were allegedly abstracts of...

So, this week I'm going to rely heavily on the highly-regarded, yet rarely attempted, practice of Haiku-Reviews, which at one time was considered one of the five essential art forms that any person worth knowing knew back in Ancient China.

The Haiku-Review distills the comic-book review to its very essence... using the framework of the haiku to focus on that which truly matters most. To many, reading a Haiku-Review, particularly a Haiku-Review of a comic-book, borders on being a spiritual experience, a sort of awakening within. If the Haiku-Review has been performed correctly, you--the reader--should emerge from the experience not only with a sense of whether or not the comic-book being reviewed would appeal to you, but also with some newly gained insight into yourself and your place in this world.

How does that sound?

Hey, now... turn that frown upside-down, chum! This is going to be fun, I promise!!!

Teen Titans #43
Written by Geoff Johns

Art by Tony Daniels

Deathstroke so angry
he forms a new Titans East.
Formulaic? Yes.


Justice League of America #1-5
Written by Brad Meltzer
Art by Ed Benes

So many villians
Yet nothing really happens
Colorful nonsense


The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1-5
Written by Danny Bilson & Paul DeMeo
Art by Ken Lashley

Bart Allen as Flash?
Whose half-assed idea was that?
I watch sales plummet.


Phew! I'm worn out from all that Haiku-ing! Which brings us to...


I hereby challenge you, the readers, to present Hoopla! with your very own Haiku Review! It can be a review for a movie, a book, a comic-book, or even a State of the Union Address. It just needs to be a review of something and it sure as hell needs to be a haiku! The winner of our little contest will get...


I'm not sure what. But something cool. Something really, really cool.

NEXT WEEK: We return to normal reviews and it should be a very full week because I'm about to receive my monthly box of comics... so there'll be lots and lots to discuss! Plus: WHO... or WHAT... is IVY???

With a bit of luck, you'll find out the answer next week...