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...

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