Monday, March 26, 2007

Hoopla! - Episode 14: The Unbearable Lightness of All-Ages Comics

Hello and welcome to Hoopla! I'm back from vacation and better than ever... my skin is tan, my walking pneumonia seems to have finally gone away, and life is good!

Before we start in on this week's comic-book reviews and a look at the June 2007 solicitations, I just wanted to say a word about last week's column.

It was a joke.

I had a couple of people write to me asking why I had posted a transcript of a DVD commentary on my blog. I'm not sure if this means I did a really good job or a really bad one, but just for the record, that wasn't a real transcript. It was a satire.

The good news, for those of you who enjoyed it, is that there's a second part that I'll use the next time I need to do a "fill-in issue" of Hoopla!

The bad news, for those of you who hated it, is that there's a second part that I'll use the next time I need to do a "fill-in issue" of Hoopla!

Anyway, on to new stuff...

Our Link of the Week is Tracy, Sarah, and Shelby Edmunds' All-Ages Read, which used to be posted at (I always hated that name, by the way) but which can now be found over at, my favorite source of comic-book news. The All-Ages Read is a semi-regular review of comics that are -- you guessed it! -- for all ages. As far as I can tell, they don't have their own web-site or blog, so the link above is to a specific column of theirs that just came out. I'll tell you what, though, I'll go ahead and write to them and see if they have their archives available anywhere. If so, I'll let y'all know.

[Update: No archive exists yet, but Tracy promises me they're working on it.]

Here is their mission statement:

Welcome to All Ages Reads. Our review crew consists of Tracy (mom, teacher, and avid comic reader), Sarah (third-grader, age 8) and Shelby (fifth-grader, age 11). Our mission is to seek out comics and graphic novels that both kids and adults can enjoy and tell you all about them so you can enjoy them, too.

The two comics they review in this week's column both sound pretty cool and I'm planning to try to trick my friends into buying copies for their daughter, Ivy (whose art we featured previously) so that I can read them for free.

We'll see how that goes.

What I like about their reviews is that they are usually super-funny (Sarah and Shelby are a riot) and, even more importantly, they review stuff that I've never heard of before and probably never would have heard of otherwise.

And this brings us to this week's sermon, er, I mean topic...

Last week, during Spring Break, I went off to Florida with a bunch of friends who are all in the same PhD program that I'm in. We rented a condo together and a good time was had by all (despite the inevitable friction of having six people share a condo with only two bedrooms for a week).

Before going, I debated whether or not to bring any comics. On the one hand, I like comics. I like reading them. I like wearing them on my head.

But, on the other hand, I hate having to explain to my fellow grown-ups that, yes, I read comic-books and no, it doesn't mean that I'm a social deviant because really comic-books aren't just for kids anymore and Maus won a Pulitzer Prize and blah-blah-blah.

I got tired of that conversation about ten years ago. Nowadays, I'm really tired of it.

In the end, however, I decided to bring just a few... just in case I had a comic-book emergency situation.


Fast forward a few days and I'm on the beach, reading about political science theory as it pertains to self-regulation (I did a lot of school work while on vacation... sue me!) and I suddenly felt a strong need for something a bit more... fun. So, I figured "To hell with it..." and pulled out a comic-book and started reading.

My colleagues stared at me, as one might expect, and eventually questioned me about this.

Insert the whole conversation. Maus. 300. (Which, somehow, it's okay that they all want to see that movie, but it's weird that I read the comic-book that it's based on.) Persepolis. Etc.

I thought I'd made some progress with them, but later that night, as we were watching something on TV (the Colbert Report, possibly?) there was a commercial for a video-game. Some dragons and dungeons and big sword-y kind of thing. And my friend, Ema, said, "Oh, look Paul! That's the kind of stuff that you like, right?"


So, again with the conversation. And later that night, it occurred to me that I should show them some of the comics that I'd brought so that they could see that comics aren't like video-games. So, I opened my backpack and pulled out my comics and...

[And here's the point that I've been building up to for the past several paragraphs...]

And there was no Persepolis in my backpack. No Maus. Nothing even remotely adult-like.

Instead, I'd brought Marvel Adventures: The Avengers (the one where all the Avengers get big MODOK-heads) and some old Justice League of America and stuff like that. Fun stuff. Stuff that basically would sink the argument for me.

And this got me to thinking...

Back when I was a kid, I used to love comics because they were fun. This was back in the late 70's and the comics I read then, when I go back to read them now, they aren't terribly sophisticated. The Justice League of America were working from their satellite headquarters (this was pre-Detroit) and Batman was fighting the Calculator (How many of you remember that storyline? It was in Detective Comics and it lasted several issues.) and Superman was still single and nerdy. Spider-Man only had one costume. The Punisher had never had his own series. There was no Alan Moore, no Frank Miller, and certainly no Maus.

As I hit my teens, however, I wanted comics that reflected (at least a little bit) reality. Naturally, I was drawn to the X-Men (back when they only had one series) and to the Teen Titans (Wolfman and Perez). I loved anything by DeMatteis (at the time, he was doing Captain America and The Defenders) because it dealt with real stuff. Sure, there were super-heroes fighting super-villains, but it was all very relevant. And from there it was just a couple of years to Frank Miller's Daredevil and Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and the rest is history. Love and Rockets. Maus. Watchmen. The more "real" it was, the better.

But these days, I look at what I'm really enjoying--what I choose to bring on my vacation to Florida--and very little of it is deliberately relevant or gritty. I like Jeff Parker's Marvel Adventures: The Avengers and Jeff Smith's Shazam. I want to read Superman Confidential and All-Star Superman and stuff by Mike Allred and Dan Slott.

I'm excited about the upcoming Minx books which, let's face it, is being published for teen girls.

I don't want to read Warren Ellis' millionth deconstruction of super-heroes. I loved Promethea because it was beautiful and hilarious and awe-inspiring, not because it was philosophical and vaguely brilliant.

I've gone back to liking comics that are fun. And maybe this is a part of the natural cycle of things. When you're a teen, you suddenly realize that the world is far more complex and imperfect than you'd realized previously. And you want to read about that, not about make-believe stuff. You start appreciating movies like Chinatown and Apocalypse Now.

But, at a certain point, it's like, "Okay. I get it. The world is imperfect and complex. Duly noted. Now, can I please get back to having some entertainment that's actually fun?"

And on that note, it's time for... New stuff I'm excited about for June 2007!!!

Isn't that a lovely cover? I get all happy inside just looking at it. All-Star Superman is a gorgeous book and I am eternally grateful to Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely for producing it. It's got all the fun and silliness of the comics I grew up with, but written and illustrated with a flair that simply didn't exist back then.

I had decided to drop Grant Morrison's Batman because I just wasn't finding it very interesting, but the solicitation for the June issue has pulled me back in.

Written by Grant Morrison
Art and cover by J.H. Williams III
The Batmen of All Nations reunite for a weekend of fine food and nostalgia, but an unexpected visitor has other plans for the gathering. Batman, Robin, and the rest of the Club of Heroes find themselves trapped and at the mercy of a dangerous madman on the Island of Mister Mayhew!On sale June 27 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

The Batmen of All Nations??? Art by J.H. Williams III???

Oh, yeah. I'm there.

Thus far, I've held off pre-ordering any of the Minx books because ten dollars is a lot to spend on something I haven't actually seen yet, but I'm about to break my own rule, because there's just no way the above title isn't going to be excellent. I like what I've seen of the work of both Andi Watson and Josh Howard, but it's the plot summary that really clinches it.

See for yourself...


Written by Andi Watson

Art and cover by Josh Howard

CLUBBING is the third book from MINX, DC COMICS' new young adult graphic novel imprint. CLUBBING is written by the Eisner- and Harvey-nominated indie sensation Andi Watson (Geisha, Paris, Skeleton Key) and illustrated by Josh Howard (Dead @ 17), Wizard magazine's pick as the #1 independent book to watch in 2005.

The crime: Getting caught with a fake I.D. at an extravagant West End nightclub. The punishment: Spending the summer at her Grandparent's stuffy country club. But Charlotte "Lottie" Brook, best known for her mile-high platforms, an endless i-tunes account and an unbridled passion for classic lit, will end up doing more than just serving time in country boot camp. Lottie will narrowly escape romance and end up solving a murder mystery on the 19th hole of her Grandparents1 golf course.This book also includes Lottie's Lexicon, a special dictionary feature that translates English slang to fluent American.All MINX books contain 176 pages, black and white interiors with gray tones and color covers. Each title also includes previews for three other MINX books as a special bonus.Advance-solicited; on sale July 11 / 176 pg, FC, $9.99 US


I've got nothing really to say about the above cover except that Fables is a wonderful comic and that's a particularly excellent cover, I think. Fables is another fine example of a series that combines a childish sense of wonder (it is, after all, about characters from children's fairy-tales living in New York City) but with an adult sensibility.

See? How can I argue that comics are for adults when I'm totally psyched to get the above issue of Legion of Super-Heroes? I can't. My credibility is shot to hell.

The above cover is not all that great, but the plot summary sounds like a lot of fun!

The Human Torch falls into a probability rift and finds himself flung across innumerable alternate realities, including: a world where a heroic Victor Von Doom, a.k.a. Doc Iron, battles against Mr. Devious, Monsterman, The Human Pyre, and The Unstoppable Woman ... a.k.a. The Frightful Four, a world where the Femmetastic Four defends a world completely depopulated of men (then Johnny shows up) and a world where Johnny's arch-nemesis runs the FF ... That's right, SPIDER-MAN! Can The Watcher help Torch get back to his timeline, or will he wander forever through "The Worlds of What If?"And a warm welcome to new cover artist PAUL SMITH!32 PGS./All Ages …$2.99

I've never heard of writer Fred Van Lente, but there's no way that a comic-book with the Femmetastic Four is going to be anything but brilliant! I mean, seriously, you can't go wrong...

This Brian Bolland cover is for a trade paperback collecting a bunch of old Jimmy Olson stories. I have no interest in the book itself, but I think that cover is beautiful. If only Bolland would re-illustrate all those old stories, I'd buy it for sure!

I only buy the occasional issue of She-Hulk; I really enjoyed it for the first year or so, but when artist Juan Bobillo left, a lot of the fun seemed to be drained out of the comic. That and the very long, not so interesting Starfox storyline led to my dropping the series.


The above cover has piqued my interest. Any allusion to Howard the Duck is guaranteed to draw me in...

It takes so little to make me happy, really.

This cover is okay-but-not-great, but the text has me intrigued...



32 PAGES FC JUNE 6 $2.99 "SWIPED FROM DIMENSION X!" Frank Einstein must run the gauntlet through multiple realities in various comic strip and comic book universes in a story you'll have to see to believe! Will Frank make it back to Snap City? Or will he settle into a new world and just try to make the best of it?

I know, I know. Again with the multiple realities!

What can I tell you? I like stories with multiple realities... and the fact that it's by Mike Allred is pretty much a guarantee of good times ahead!

Anyway, I was going to do an overview/review of the recent Eternals limited series (written by Neil Gaiman) but I am way behind on my dissertation and I have another conference in a few days that I need to prepare for. (I won't be taking Jet Blue to get there, so I may actually make it to this one!)

I hope you're all having a wonderful week and, if you have a spare minute, I encourage you to drop me a line (either through the comments-thingie or via email) and let me know which comics you're enjoying these days and what you look for in a good comic-book reading experience.

Until next week, here's hoping no one screws with your continuity...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hoopla! - Episode 13 - Commentary to the DVD of the same name

DVD commentary to "OH, Sing me a twisted tale of murder"

Opening shows a young, teenage couple, making out in the woods. The camera darts around them, hinting at impending doom. Clearly, this is a low-budget slasher film. Or, alternatively, the "film" could consist out of mixed footage of whatever. It doesn't need to fit together or make sense and, in fact, the more disjointed the footage seems, the better it might be.

Sound is muffled because what we are viewing is the DVD COMMENTARY for the movie.

DOUG: Hello. I'm Douglas Cleveland and I am the director of OH, SING ME A TWISTED TALE OF MURDER.

JENNY: And I'm Jennifer Voltaire, and I played HEATHER, one of the lead roles in OH, SING ME A TWISTED TALE OFMURDER.

DOUG: Or, O'SMATTOM, if you prefer...


DOUG: The crew, after a while, because it's a...

JENNY: It's a really long...

DOUG: ...A really long title.

JENNY: Yes. So, after a while, it was just easier to...

DOUG: Instead of always saying...


DOUG: Right. We'd just say, O'SMATTOM.


DOUG: It was sort of a...

JENNY: Well, it was an acronym.

DOUG: Yes. Very much so.

JENNY: And so we'd.. we'd just use that. [Beat] Instead of always saying the whole title of the film, every time.

DOUG: Right. That's right.

JENNY: Yeah...

[On screen, the teens are now being hacked to death with a knife. We only see shots of the knife going up and down, up and down, then cuts to the two teens cowering and shrieking, then back up to the knife. Very, very low-budget. Or maybe something completely different. Whichever.]

DOUG: That was actually something we talked about quite a bit, before releasing O'SMATTOM, is that the...

JENNY: The title was so...

DOUG: Long.

JENNY: Long. Yeah.

DOUG: Ultimately, though, we decided to go with it. We, uh, Stewart Langstrom, the writer of O'SMATTOM...

JENNY: A really great...

DOUG: Yes. Yes. He was just...

JENNY: Really super.

DOUG: Really... yeah. Just wonderful to work with.

JENNY: Really a... almost a genius...

DOUG: I remember saying to Stewart, "Stewart, this is a... the title is... "

JENNY: It's a long title...

DOUG: Yeah. It's just.. it's a lot of words for the viewer to remember. You know, you think back to someone like Alfred Hitchcock...

JENNY: A genius...

DOUG: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And most of his titles...

JENNY: Much shorter than...

DOUG: The Birds. Two words. Psycho. One word. Rear Window. Two words. Vertigo. One word. The Man Who Knew Too Much. Uh, five...? Or...?

JENNY: That one's a little bit longer than the others...

DOUG: Yes. But still...

JENNY: But still, the man was a...

DOUG: He was a genius. An absolute... yes.

JENNY: Yeah.

DOUG: So, originally, you know, I said to Stewart...

JENNY: Because it's seven words.


JENNY: It's seven words. OH, SING ME A TWISTED TALE OF...

DOUG: Oh, right. I thought you meant the, uh, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. I thought you were saying...

JENNY: No, no. That one was... it was really only six words. And one of those is "the." Which I don't even know if you can count that.

DOUG: Right. And he made it much later in his career, too. I mean, that was after he'd already established himself as the Master of Suspense.

JENNY: Right, right. He didn't start off with a six-word title.

DOUG: Heh. No. No way. That was after... after many years...

JENNY: And so many, truly wonderful, movies...

DOUG: Right. Right.

[Long pause as, on the screen, we see an old man in a bright red dress, laughing maniacly, waving a bloody knife in the air, as the camera pulls back very abruptly and the title, OH, SING ME A TWISTED TALE OF MURDER flashes upon the screen.]

DOUG: But, as you can see, we ended up sticking with Stewart's original title. OH, SING ME A TWISTED TALE OF...


DOUG: of MURDER. Yes. [beat] And there it is. You can see it.

[Screen goes completely blank and mood music begins as opening credits are shown. A long sequence of credits, one after another, will soon appear on the black screen. "Mood music" is generic background music for a mystery/suspense film. It remains very muffled.]

DOUG: And -BOOM!- right to the credits!

JENNY: I love that. I love that shift. It's just so...

DOUG: I know. I know. It's just... film, film, film... and BOOM! right to the opening credits. Without missing a...

JENNY: You don't miss a...

DOUG: A single beat.

JENNY: It's so... powerful, that way. The credits actually become a part of...

DOUG: They're a part of the movie. I know. They become a part of this thing that we're creating. This piece. It's very...

JENNY: Well, it's very intense, for one thing. It's very organic.

[As names appear on screen, they will occasionally respond to them.]

DOUG: I know. And that's one thing... for all you future movie-makers out there.. that's one thing you really don't hear too much about is the structure of the opening credits...

JENNY: [in response to one of the names flashing on the screen.] Joel Radford. Absolutely brilliant in this...

DOUG: I actually attended film school for... for several semesters... and I honestly don't remember one professor taking the time to talk about how you structure the opening credits to make them a PART of the film, as opposed to some... distraction...

JENNY: [in response to another name on the screen] Andrew Caskie. We just called him Andy on the set. Just... Andy.

DOUG: Ideally, the credits shouldn't be an interruption. There's no reason... And I think you'll find that's one of the things that today's film-makers...

JENNY: Robert Hugh... another great actor... wonderful to work with... a real professional.

DOUG: There's a real movement toward incorporating the opening credits into the piece that you're creating... and by "incorporating" I don't necessarily mean that it has to be overt...

JENNY: [Now simply reading along with the credits..] Mark Simpson... Chloe Gardner...

DOUG: It can be quite subtle at times. As with what I've done here. I've managed to incorporate the credits into the piece... the background music, the pacing of the credits, even the font that I very specifically chose to blend in with the mood that I'm creating here... a feeling of, anything can happen. Strictly anything.

JENNY: Robin...

DOUG: I think that's something you're going to be seeing a lot more of in the future, too... at least, I certainly hope so...

JENNY: Alexis...

DOUG: She was really great.

JENNY: [waking from her credits-reading trance] Hm?

DOUG: Alexis. She was a real...

JENNY: Oh, yeah. A total professional. From start to finish.

DOUG: Never...

JENNY: Never a word of complaint, either. Just a real... trooper.

[JENNY's name finally comes up]

DOUG: Look! There you are!

JENNY: That's me.

[Long beat as credits continue]

DOUG: Really a... a great bunch of people.

JENNY: Outstanding. Just.. a lot of fun to work with.

[Credits continue]

JENNY and DOUG: [Both reading aloud with the credits] Cathy Finklestein.


JENNY: [Despite her best efforts, her enthusiasm is gradually waning. She's running out of things to say about these people.] She was really... a pleasure to work with.

DOUG: A total pleasure. A real...

JENNY: A real professional.

[The next few credits pass without comment.]

Next Week: Back to doing weekly reviews and a look at some very cool stuff coming up in June! I hope you all enjoyed my vacation as much as I did!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Hoopla! - Episode 12: Death, where is thy sting?

Hello and welcome to Hoopla!, the comic-book review column that redefines snazzy. This week we're going to have some comic-book reviews, which seems oddly fitting, given that this is a comic-book review column. We'll also have the Link of the Week, a time-honored tradition dating back to last week, and of course we'll feature a few pictures that have no apparent connection to anything I'm talking about.

Like this:

And now, a behind-the scenes look at the making of Hoopla!

As this is a weekly column, I work on it throughout the week, doing a bit here, a bit there, and so on. Lots of bits, you see. That's what I'm saying.

So, on Monday of this week I decided to do a piece about deaths in comic-books and to focus on what then seemed like the biggest death event of recent days, the (almost) death of Aunt May.


Well, on Wednesday, everything I'd just written about Aunt May seemed sort of... beside the point, if you will, because of the death of Captain America and the extensive coverage throughout the news (and entertainment) media.

Another man, faced with the obsolete nature of that initial column, might have deleted it and run a more relevant one.

I am not another man, though. I am this one.

So, we're going to open with Monday's column about the (almost) death of Aunt May. The Aunt May-ness of it may no longer be topical, but the main thrust of the thing is, I think.

And besides, I hate rewriting my column.


It was recently revealed (SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!) that a key character from The Amazing Spider-Man is going to (HEY... I WASN'T FINISHED YET.) Uh... a major character from The Amazing Spider-Man is going to die!!!


And that character is (LAST WARNING!!!) Aunt May.


I was thinking about this big announcement and trying to figure out if I care at all. And the answer is no, I don't. And it got me thinking about all the recent deaths in comics lately and why writers/editors decide to do that. And I concluded that there are a couple of potentially legitimate reasons for killing off a character and then a third, not so potentially legitimate reason...

1) To show that you're not afraid to do it, thereby raising the stakes in future episodes.

Back before super-hero deaths were common, killing one off was big news. With the death of Gwen Stacy, for example, Marvel established that they weren't afraid to kill off a major character. So, that theoretically makes future stories more exciting.

A really good example of this being done well is on the TV show 24. At the end of the first season, they very abruptly killed off a character who, up until that point, the audience assumed would come out of the whole thing okay. This, I think, was very smart. From that point on, the makers of 24 have been very ready to kill off major characters without warning and it definitely raises the stakes because you know that no one, with the probable exception of Jack Bauer, is safe.

This adds a lot of suspense. Which, for a show like 24, is pretty darn important.

The first death of Jean Grey also served this purpose. Not so much the next several deaths of Jean Grey.

The death of Barry Allen would be another good example of this.

2) The death of the character helps the main character to develop in an interesting way, thereby opening up the story.

Think of the death of Obi One Konobi (I don't know how the hell to spell his name... sue me.) His death served a definite purpose in that it forces Luke Skywalker to mature. An even better example would be the death of Buffy's mom in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. By killing off that one character, the writers completely altered Buffy's relationship to Dawn and to Giles, and it really altered the whole tone of the show. Suddenly, Buffy had responsibilities. Suddenly, she was an adult. And that moved the whole show in a new direction.

Again, I'd argue that the death of Barry Allen also fits into this category. Sure, it didn't do much to develop Barry's character, but his absence opened up a lot of possibilities for the DC universe. Not only did it allow Wally West to take his place but it also emphasized the sense that these identities are legacies and that the understudy will, in time, replace the lead.

3) Shock value. This is the third, not so legitimate reason.

Geoff Johns looooves to kill off minor DC characters because, presumably, he thinks it's shocking and will get readers all revved up. These are characters whose deaths serve no real purpose within the story. They happen and then are immediately forgotten in most cases.

I find this boring.

The death of Blue Beetle definitely fits this category.

"Oh, look! We just showed Blue Beetle's brains being blown out of his head! Did we... shock you???"

The death of Blue Beetle did not open up any storylines. Sure, there's a new Blue Beetle, but you could have accomplished that just as easily without killing Ted Kord. You could have had Kord retire. Or become a mentor to the new guy. Or disappear on a mysterious mission that no one knows about. Or something.

Anyway, the point is that Aunt May's upcoming death is an attempt to shock the audience and temporarily increase sales.

And it's boring.

For one thing, they've already done this. Aunt May died in Amazing Spider-Man #400. It was actually a pretty good story. Very nicely done.

There was a touching scene right before her death when Aunt May revealed that she knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man and she accepted that part of his life.

Good stuff.

Unfortunately, the impact of that story was somewhat diminished when, years later, it was revealed that Aunt May had not actually died in that story.

The Editorial Powers-That-Be concluded that killing off Aunt May was a dumb move and so they brought her back by explaining that the woman who had actually died in Spider-Man's arms was an elderly actress who had been genetically clone-modified to perfectly resemble Aunt May and had been trained to act just like her and given Aunt May classes where she learned all the stuff that the real Aunt May would have known and... uh... and it was all a part of some master plan by the Green Goblin (who was also dead) to... uh... to make Peter Parker think that this actress was... see, she looked just like Aunt May and she... she was an actress. So, then when Aunt May died, it was really not her dying. It was someone else. Who looked exactly like her. And had been trained to pretend that she was Aunt May. Because, uh...

Because the Green Goblin is evil!!! And that's all you need to know!!!


Now she's been back for a while and the Editorial Powers-That-Be have apparently decided that she's not that much fun alive, either. So, they're going to kill her off again.

Hey, why not?

Then Spider-Man can be all broody and dark.

(Quite literally. He's going to wear the black costume again. Sort of like Morrissey.

"I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside")

(Side note: Wouldn't it be awesome if Peter Parker retired and Morrissey suddenly appeared in the comic and was all like "There must be a Spider-Man!" and became the new Spider-Man. And he could, y'know, be sort of depressing about it. He could be fighting crime and singing "Heaven knows I'm miserable now..."

I'd buy a series about Morrissey swinging around dressed like Spider-Man. Wouldn't you?)

But, anyway, I digress...

Uh, what were we talking about? Oh, yeah. (SPOILER!!!) Aunt May's death.

Yeah, whatever.

Give it a few years and we'll find out that it was an actress who had been genetically altered to look like the real Aunt May. Or it'll turn out that moments before dying, Aunt May was poking at a glitch in the time-space continuum and so travelled to the future before dying and is acting as the warden of Tony Stark's Negative Zone Space Prison. Or she'll be the Winter Soldier. Or some damn thing.

But her death serves no real purpose beyond shock value. I don't see as one more death in Spider-Man's life is going to make any real difference at this point. He's pretty much maxed out on feeling guilty for stuff. I think Uncle Ben and Gwen Stacy pretty well covered that area.

So, it's not like there are a lot of story possibilities that open up once you remove Aunt May from the equation.

On the other hand, I'm not at all outraged by her (almost) death because it's not like her presence was all that interesting either. So, nothing has been gained, but nothing has really been lost.

Poor Aunt May. I know she wouldn't speak this way about me if the roles were reversed.


Jump forward two days...


Well, don't I look silly now. Here I am, doing a column about the death of Aunt May and then--Wham!!!-- that news becomes totally obsolete because the big death-y news is the death of Captain America.

And, to make matter worse, I just learned that Aunt May isn't officially dead yet. She's "hanging on by a thread."

Ah, the proverbial thread. Aunt May, she knows it well...

So, I think that there are two ways we can interpret this latest development:

1) I'm really in tune with the zeitgeist (is that how you use that word?) and so wrote an article about death in comics two days before it became a huge topic. Conclusion: I rock!

2) I just spent hours writing the wrong article. Conclusion: I suck!

Anyway, I could tell you what I think about Captain America's death and what it means to the future of our country, but that whole topic is pretty much done by now. I'm tired of hearing what people think about it. Maybe I'll talk about it in a few weeks, when the news is old. That's the Hoopla! way, after all. For now, suffice it to say that:

1) I thought the actual comic-book (Captain America #25) was very nicely done.

2) I have faith that Ed Brubaker will tell a good story.

3) I do not doubt for a second that Captain America will return to us someday.

Here's an excerpt from an interesting interview with Ed Brubaker over at newsarama.

NRAMA: Playing devil’s advocate here - we've seen Cap dead before. Hell, we've seen him frozen in a block of ice before. There are and will be fans who are doubting this, and asking about dead really being "dead." Thoughts on the doubters, or words of advice for them?

EB: My advice -- Just read the comic if enjoy it, and don't if you don't. Stories are like a ride you go on, and if you don't like the ride, or don't want to see which turn comes next, you should get off, because you aren't in the driver's seat and you aren't steering -- the creators are. Hopefully, more readers than not will like the ride. So I say, take it for what it is, and try not to bring in preconceived notions of how it will or won't go. That's how I try to read my episodic comics. But this constant second-guessing and need to get angry about stuff before they know what's happening that some comic fans have is a waste of their time and energy. And I can't hope to please those kinds of fans. Nothing does, generally, especially not anything big. I can only try to tell a good story and follow my instincts. I'm confident in the story we're telling, and since Cap is one of my favorite Marvel characters since childhood, I wouldn't have killed him if I didn't think there was a great story to tell here.

I interpret that to mean, "Yes, Captain America will be back at some point and we all know it, but please shut up and read the story and stop asking me if he's ever coming back."

Which I'm okay with.

Anyway, let's get on to some comic-book reviews, ja?

Ultimate Spider-Man #106
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Mark Bagley
Published by Marvel Comics

You know that perfect comic-book reading experience where you get totally sucked into the story and forget where you are until the comic is over and you look up and say, "Oh. I just missed my stop on the bus." or "Huh. I'm in a burning building."

Well, that's what happened to me with Ultimate Spider-Man #106. Not the burning building part, but the part about being so totally absorbed.

I love when that happens.

I wasn't even going to pick up #106, which is the first chapter of the "Ultimate Knights" storyline (Daredevil and a bunch of other people try to kill the Kingpin) because I've been kind of bored with Ultimate Spider-Man over the past several years and only pick up the occasional issue.

But I've found that the first chapter of Bendis' stories is usually the one I most enjoy, because in the first chapter there's usually a lot of character-driven stuff. The last issue is almost always my least favorite, because it's almost always a big fight scene. Bendis' fight scenes don't do a thing for me. I like the parts where Peter Parker is in school, dealing with girlfriend problems, etc.

So, for me, #106 was pretty much perfect.

It's got Mary Jane and Peter figuring stuff out together, it's got J. Jonah Jameson being kind of a jerk, a little bit of Aunt May, and a nice soap-opera twist at the end.


It remains to be seen whether or not I'll pick up the rest of the story, but this first chapter was a mighty good buzz.

Thunderbolts #111
Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Mike Deodata, Jr.
Published by Marvel Comics

I'm having problems with this series.

I really enjoyed Thunderbolts pre-Warren Ellis, when it was an 'old school' Marvel title. It was colorful and nonsensical and fun.

Now it's more of a dark-edged, dark humor, darkity-dark-dark-dark kind of thing and sales have gone waaaay up, but I'm having a really hard time enjoying it.

The premise, for those of you who haven't picked it up yet, is that the very worst Marvel Universe villians have been recruited by the government to act as their soldiers. So, you have homicidal killers like Venom, Bullseye, etc. being lead by Norman Osborne (the original Green Goblin) running around beating the crap out of super-heroes who haven't registered.

Issue #111 is the second issue of this new take on the series and the plot is essentially this: An old friend of Captain America's, Jack Flag, has not registered and so the Thunderbolts are sent to kill or capture him. In the end, he's permanently paralyzed so that he'll never walk again and is then taken into custody.

So, I guess what I don't understand is what part of this I'm supposed to be enjoying.

Sure, it's well written and the art is perfectly fine, but it's so mean-spirited that I just felt kind of icky when I finished reading it. I don't like the members of this new group of Thunderbolts. And you can argue that I'm not supposed to like them, but usually when there's a character that you aren't supposed to like, there's something about them that still grabs you.

Example: The Irredeemable Ant-Man is a jerk, but he's also kind of funny. There's something about him and the way he's totally oblivious to his own jerkiness that's really very entertaining.


Doctor Doom. Very bad guy. But he's also strangely noble. He's capable of terrible things, but every now and then you get to see things from his perspective and you realize that he truly believes in what he's doing. He's evil, but he's sincere.


Al Swearengen in the show "Deadwood." He is an evil, evil guy. He does terrible things. But as the series progresses, you begin to like him despite all the horrible things he does. For one thing, he's got the Archie Bunker thing, where it's kind of fun to see him explode with fury at all the morons he's forced to deal with. And, too, he's a man with a philosophy. The world, to his mind, is a harsh, cruel place. If you want to survive, you've got to be more harsh and more cruel than the next guy. Being soft can get you killed. So, when Swearengen does something truly heartless, you may hate what he's done but you can also understand why he's done it. And, occasionally, he's the only one with the lack of conscience necessary to do what needs to be done (as seen particularly in the stunning finale of the first season).

So... back to Thunderbolts. There's nothing noble about Bullseye, Green Goblin, or Venom. There's nothing amusing or entertaining to me about them permanently crippling some guy whose only crime was saving an innocent woman from being raped. And there's no sense of moral outrage that goes along with this act. It's just kind of, "Isn't that cool? They're totally evil and the public loves them."

I don't know. I guess the attitude behind this comic is just a little too harsh for me to enjoy. And the degrading treatment of one of the original members (Songbird) at the beginning of the issue didn't help. This is a character that had previously been flawed, yes, but ultimately heroic. Someone who had risen from low-level villian to the highly effective leader of the team.

In Warren Ellis world, though, she's beneath contempt. Norman Osborne essentially accuses her of being a traitor and a slut, then tells her the only reason he'd even keep her on the team is because she's sort of pretty and they can make toys of her and sell them.

Does she punch him in the face?

She does not.

Instead, she meekly takes his abuse and then signs on.

Sometimes I really get the sense that Warren Ellis truly hates super-heroes and has contempt for those who enjoy reading about them. And while some people may find his contempt entertaining, I just find it off-putting. I don't think Thunderbolts is clever or funny or daring. There is not one character in the story with an ounce of depth; everyone is either "a psychotic killer" or a victim.


Fantastic Four #543
Writers: Dwayne McDuffie, Stan Lee, and Paul Pope
Artists: Mike McKone, Nick Dragotta, Mike Allred, and Paul Pope
Published by Marvel

Now this was a pleasant surprise.

As mentioned in previous columns, I started picking up Fantastic Four when Dwayne McDuffie started writing it and I've been pretty darn pleased with it thus far. I like McDuffie's writing and, although I wouldn't say his work on this title has blown me away, it has been quietly enjoyable.

Issue #543, however, is the 45th anniversary issue. So, we've got a lead story that basically recaps the FF's career thus far and that features "interviews" with their many friends and foes. Nothing too radical here. And then, too, there are two back-up stories.

Normally, a comic-book featuring the above would pretty much suck. Recap stories are dull unless you've never read the book before and back-up stories are almost always absymal.


The recap story, first of all, is actually a lot of fun, particularly the scenes of the Thing and the Human Torch watching the Fantastic Four TV special with Franklin and Valerie. As always, McDuffie's characterization is spot on. There's the usual levity between the two characters but there's also a depth that few writers manage to get. Their interactions with the kids, with each other, and their (very) brief acknowledgement to each other about how things have changed since the events of Civil War and how it's affected them are enjoyable and insightful.

The real pleasure of this issue, however, comes from the back-up features. The first one is written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Nick Dragotta and Mike Allred. If you were a fan of their work on X-Factor/X-Statix, you'll love this. Basically, the whole thing reads like an issue of that series, but starring the Fantastic Four and Stan Lee instead of the X-Factor/X-Statix team.

Finally, we get a short story written and illustrated by Paul Pope. For those of you who aren't familiar with Paul Pope, he's pretty much amazing. The quality of his writing fluctuates (I still think his best work was THB) but his art is consistently brilliant and unique. The story in Fantastic Four #543 is pretty light, but you get to see Paul Pope's version of J. Jonah Jameson, the Human Torch, the Thing, Spider-Man, and lots of cool race-cars and flames. Good stuff.

As much as I've been enjoying the Fantastic Four, this was issue was an extra-special treat and a great way to celebrate an anniversary.



Our link of the week is to one of my favorite comic-book reviewers, Paul O'Brien's The X-Axis. O'Brien's been doing his weekly column for a long, long while... actually, a quick look at his archives section tells me he's been doing it since 1999. If you've ever written one of these things, you'll realize how insane that is.

[The answer is: Very.]

The thing that I love about O'Brien's reviews, though, is that he's the single most articulate reviewer I've ever read. Yes, he's often funny and interesting and all that other important stuff too, but he has an uncanny ability to pick out precisely what it is that does (or does not) work within a given comic-book. An example would be this recent review of the final issue of Civil War. While most reviews I've read are scattered rants about how much Marvel sucks and how out of character everyone in the story is and how much Joe Quesada has ruined their childhood memories and so on and so forth, O'Brien is able to distinguish between the intention and the execution, the parts that work, the parts that would have been cool if they had worked but didn't, and the parts that were just bad ideas from the start.

Every week, come rain, snow, or shine, O'Brien is there.

I love you, Paul O'Brien. Please be my valentine.


Well, that's more than enough for this week, don't you think? Next Week is going to be an extra-special posting, as I'll be away on Spring Break and so will finally be using my Mystery column, which has nothing at all to do with comic-books.

What is it about, you ask? Well, it's a surprise. But I think you'll like it.


Until then, I hope you have a wonderful, comic-book filled week and that no one tries to mess with your continuity!

Monday, March 5, 2007

Hoopla! - Episode 11: A celebration of moisture.

Hello and welcome once again to Hoopla! This week we're going to take a look at a couple of upcoming projects from Image that look potentially interesting, a list of everything I'm ordering for the month of May, and the first in an ongoing series called Link of the Week which, as you might have guessed, is... um... a weekly link. Yup.

More often than not, the link will be related to comic-book stuff, such as blogs with comic-book reviews or comic-book news or comic-book plates or comic-book cups or comic-book birthday cakes or... well, you get the idea.

Our first Link of the Week is to one of my favorite sources of comic-book reviews, news, and general all-around stuff, Every Day is Like Wednesday. Caleb's column is always interesting and often pretty damn funny, but the truly amazing thing about it is that it comes out every day.

How the hell does he do that???

Caleb has great taste, as evidenced by the fact that it's similar to mine!!! He even reads and enjoys Jeff Parker's Marvel Adventures: The Avengers, which proves that he is a worthwhile human being.

So, there you have it. Our first Link of the Week. I think that went pretty well, don't you?

[And if you, the reader, have any suggestions for future links, please send them along to me. Anything interesting/funny/cool is fair game.]

And now, this...

Grant Morrison only wishes he could come up with something that surreal...

And now for something extra-special:

A few weeks ago I started going out with this woman I'm rather fond of.

But it's my first potentially serious relationship in a long, long while.

So, now that we're officially "an item", here's a little song I've written about that...

Oh, I like my girlfriend...
La, la, la,
But my heart is oh so filled with anxiety...
La, la, la
She is so cool and funny and pretty...
La, la, la
I hope she doesn't wind up being insane and making my life a living hell...
La, la, la

I'm so glad I could share that with all of you.

And now it's time to take a look at what all I'm ordering for the month of May. Will this be interesting to anyone other than myself? I have no idea. Hopefully you'll find a couple of things you didn't know about which you will then purchase and enjoy and be eternally grateful to me.

That's my hope, anyway...



Written by Joss Whedon, I'm hoping that this will be good... but I'm not totally optimistic.


I don't normally pick this up, but the solicitation makes it sound like a fun single issue story.

Written by Kurt Busiek
Art and cover by Renato Guedes
In this extra-sized special issue, writer Kurt Busiek reunites with artist Renato Guedes to visit the 31st Century and the Girl of Steel! Supergirl's looking for a way to back from the future and to realize why Superman doesn't want her to wear the "S" shield, but both Superman and Supergirl in for a big surprise when they see what the past has in store! With time-viewing sneak peaks at the upcoming year's events!


My super-sneaky plan is to only order the first issue of this series. The first issue is actually scripted by Paul Dini, so it should be pretty good, and this way I'll have a sense of what the series is actually about.


I've got mixed feelings about this title, thus far, but I guess I'm enjoying it enough to stick with it for now. Besides which, this issue crosses over into...


This has been pretty darn good so far, too. Neither of these books would make my Top Ten of the month, but they're both generally good super-hero-ey fun.


I don't normally buy this. In fact, I've never bought it before. But, as mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the cover made me laugh. Sometimes, that's all it takes...

Ah, Fables. How I do love thee...


This is a new series by Paul Dini. That's the good news.

The bad news is that it's being published by Top Cow. I've never bought a Top Cow comic and I've never wanted to.

Their company motto is "We draw bigger boobs... for the exact same price!"

So, I'm probably going to regret this one.

[Side note: although I've never purchased a Top Cow comic-book, I did once know a guy who was really into Fathom and insisted that I read some. As someone who likes to at least pretend to be open-minded, I read the first three or four issues. All I remember about them now is that the lead character had huge breasts and that she was constantly coming out of the water. I think maybe that was her super-power or something. One issue she'd be stepping out of the ocean wearing a very wet and clingy t-shirt and a thong. The next issue, she'd take a bath with lots of sudsy bubbles and then would step out of the tub with a few protective bubbles covering up her naughty bits. The next issue, she'd step out of a pool wearing a super-tight one-piece bathing suit. Etc.

It was a very wet book. It was a book that celebrated moisture.]


I had no intention of picking this up, but the mail order company I use ( features a handful of titles at ridiculously low prices every month, and this is one of them for this month. So, it costs 74 cents.

What's a guy to do?


Also didn't plan to pick this up, but it's got art by John Cassaday. Ack!


Jeff Parker. Yummy goodness...


I was already considering getting this because of the beautiful cover art, but it turns out that this is another 74 cents special from mailordercomics. So, that pretty much decided that.


Dan Slott.




That first story arc by Brubaker and Lark was so good... I keep waiting for them to do that again.


Dwayne McDuffie. See my review from a couple of weeks ago...


Haven't bought this in a long, long time, but it's got art by Gary Frank and it's setting things up for the upcoming World War Hulk storyline, so I figured I'd give it a shot.


Still hasn't totally blown me away, but definitely good enough to stick with for now...


I've actually really enjoyed the past few issues I've read by the Knaufs and I'm interested to see what's going to happen with the character post-Civil War.






More zombie goodness...


So far, this hasn't really lived up to my expectations. It's good enough to keep buying, but it seems like it should be about a million times better than it is...


SILENT WAR #5 (Of 6)

I reviewed this a couple of weeks back. This is the series about the Inhumans being at war with Earth. Good stuff...


I talked about this one last week. Jeff Parker and a bunch of kick-ass artists, including Mike Allred. This is gonna be frickin' awesome...



I'm just about ready to drop this, but not quite yet...


This might suck, but I've got a good feeling about it. We shall see...


I love this book.

And here's the solicitation for the May issue...

32 PAGESFCMAY 30$2.99


Cosmic Melodrama meets Orgy of Violence! What more could you want from a comic book? I mean, just look at that cover! That’s the SAVAGE STING, baby! Doesn’t that just say it all?!? Besides, so much insane sh*t happens this issue, you won’t believe your beady little eyes!


That's a mighty enthusiastic solicitation, no? And the whole damn series is like that. I think that this, Irredeemable Ant-Man, and Marvel Adventures: The Avengers are some of the most fun comics I've ever read. And I've been reading the funny-books for a miiiighty long time.

A couple of titles that I had been picking up but which got officially dropped this month...


As mentioned last week, I have no interest in Lady Ultron vs. the Sentinel, and I certainly have no interest in Tigra... AS DRAWN BY FRANK CHO!!!


I'd been picking this up because, y'know, it's written by Grant Morrison and he's great and all that, but the simple truth is that this series has been pretty lame thus far. I'm tired of pretending that it's anything better than what it is.

And that's it for me. If I've missed anything that you think is truly excellent, please do let me know.

So, I keep promising to give you a look at a couple of upcoming projects from Image that have me intrigued, but I'm frustrated by the lack of information available. As a result, this is going to be brief...

GUTSVILLE #1 (of 6)
story Simon Spurrier

art & cover Frazer Irving

32 PAGES FCMAY 30$2.99
GUTSVILLE is a town living in the belly of the beast, literally. 150 years after the ocean liner HMS Daphne was swallowed at sea, its passengers’ descendents cling to life in Gutsville. All is not well among the slippery streets… As revolutionaries, sadistic priests and frothing psychos clash in the psychedelic innards of an impossible creature, it’s left to one scared RatCatcher to consider escape…

It actually looks kind of awful, but I really like Frazer Irving's art, so that's why I might consider picking this up. Possibly.


story DAVID HINEart & cover David Hine & ROB STEEN

32 PAGESFCMAY 16$2.99
SPAWN & X-MEN: CIVIL WAR writer David Hine brings his magnum opus to Image Comics! Digitally re-mastered, STRANGE EMBRACE will be available as eight monthly issues colored by FLANIMALS co-creator ROB STEEN and lettered by those awfully nice chaps at Comicraft! STRANGE EMBRACE is a modern gothic psycho-sexual tortured romance and is not for the nervous!

The fact that David Hine has written Spawn and X-Men-Civil War isn't something they should be boasting about, really, but he's also written Son of M and is currently writing Silent War, both of which I enjoy.

Again, I probably won't end up picking this up, but it seemed worth mentioning.

Okay, so this next one is the biggie...


art & cover DUNCAN FEGREDO & Sean Phillips

96 PAGESFC MAY 9$14.99 SC$34.99 LTD HC
Conceived during a repast of fine wine and nouvelle cuisine, INTERSECTIONS is the meeting of two artistic minds.
Sean Phillips (MARVEL ZOMBIES, CRIMINAL) and DUNCAN FEGREDO (HELLBOY, ENIGMA) play artistic ping pong with a sketchbook – a drawn and painted conversation where punctuation is provided by the postal service.
Can you read between the paintings?
Intersections: A visual dialogue between Sean Phillips and DUNCAN FEGREDO.
Intersections: The sequential conclusion to an excess of curry and beer.

Ah. Now this looks interesting. Duncan Fegredo is one of my favorite comic-book artists (I loved Enigma) and Sean Phillips is pretty damn good too. [I wonder why Fedgredo's name is in all capital letters throughout the solicitation and Phillips' isn't?] This might be very, very good.

On the other hand...

It's fifteen dollars. And it might suck.

So, this is where some additional information would be useful.

But I can't find anything.

Which I find kind of annoying and odd. I mean, let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that they would like to sell some copies of this book. That they aren't printing it up for the hell of it, but would actually like to exchange the books for money.

Everyone involved in this project knows that stores (and many readers) preorder three months in advance. So, how much effort would it take to put up some sort of web-site that describes the book in a little more detail and maybe provides 4 or 5 preview pages so that the consumer (that's you and me) can make an informed decision (one of the fundamental assumptions that must be met in order for the free market system to function properly) before ordering?

They're ruining capitalism for me!!!

Oh, well. I'm going to wrap things up now... I'd hoped to do a review or two, but my poor brain is throbbing. Remember previously I mentioned how I was all sick and everything and then the doctor prescribed antibiotics and I was feeling better but also feeling kind of stupid because I'd been so skeptical about going to see the doctor and getting antibiotics?


It turns out that my original dubious-ness was correct and the antibiotics seemed to help for a few days but then stopped and now I am as miserably ill as I was to begin with. So, that means I win!!! Ha!!! The doctor is stupid and antibiotics are stupid and I am the greatest person in the world!!!!!!!!!!!!

And my prize is... I feel like poop.

Hurray for me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, be here next week when I show the French what a montage is all about!

(Not really...)

Until then, here's hoping that your doctor is smarter than mine!