The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part Seven: DC Comics – Catwoman to The Challengers Of The Unknown

CatwomanThe Ed Brubaker Trades (Dark End Of The Street, Relentless, Crooked Little Town, Wild Ride)

To say that I’ve never been a Catwoman fan is an understatement. The character has always represented the worst of DC’s silly excesses to me. So why the hell do I own 9 Catwoman trade paperbacks? Two words: Ed Brubaker. The man has a gift for great crime stories, and since Catwoman is supposed to be a great criminal, it makes perfect sense that him writing the book would be a perfect fit. And it is.

Brubaker’s Catwoman is a “small c” crimefighter. It’s mostly gangs and mob bosses for her. But Brubaker builds a great supporting cast for Selena Kyle, and between them and the choice of Black Mask as lead villain, it’s a pretty great little series. Extra points go to Darwyn Cooke, Javier Pulido, and Cameron Stewart for some great pencil work.

KEEP.

Catwoman The Will Pfeiffer trades (Replacements, It’s Only a Movie, Crime Pays, Catwoman Dies)

One thing that I HATE about superhero comics is the constantly changing creative teams. You love a book, get used to the look and feel, and bang! They’re gone, and some no-name rookie is in there making your much loved book a dark and gritty deconstruction of the superhero genre that nobody asked for. So as you can imagine I wasn’t too inclined to give Will Pfeiffer a shot when he took over Catwoman for the much vaunted Ed Brubaker. But I did, and I’m glad. Sort of.

Although Pfeiffer injected a bunch of nasty into the book with some great new villains, specifically the Film Freak, he also delved into serious melodrama, with a “who’s the baby daddy” storyline that wouldn’t have been out of place on Guiding Light. Worse than that, the actual pay off to that storyline satisfied NO ONE, and only alienated fans that had been patient enough to give it a shot. Although Pfeiffer’s run started strong, it eventually got roped into the regular DCU shenanigans (And by shenanigans, I mean she went to outer space. Seriously.), and pretty soon any of the charm that the book had had was gone.

First two trades: KEEP. Last two trades: CULL.

CatwomanWhen In Rome.

This was essentially the epilogue to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s much loved Batman Long Halloween/Dark Victory mini series. It takes place between the two series, and it shows a young Catwoman traveling to Italy to find out if a big time Gotham gangster was actually her father.

Jeph Loeb is many things, and some of those things are good. But subtle ain’t one of them, and he pretty much mucks this one up right from the beginning. Loeb’s Catwoman is nothing but a cheap vamp, and while that may make sense if she’s flirting with Batman, it loses it’s charm when she’s on a personal mission. Not to mention the lack of anything much like a real plot. The only thing that saves this is Tim Sale’s art. Even though the story is utterly dispensable, Sale produces some of the best artwork of his career. Absolutely stunning work on this one.

KEEP. Just barely.

Challengers Of The UnknownChallengers Of The Unknown Must Die!

Yep, it’s another Loeb/Sale collaboration. In fact, it’s their first, from 1991. As such, it’s extremely unpolished in places, and it’s obvious that the two future superstars are still feeling their way around the medium. The Challengers are a fairly obscure DC group that is most famous for being the characters that Jack Kirby ripped off when he created the Fantastic Four. I suppose it’s ok since he created the Challengers too. Talented bastard. The Challs are one of those groups that most long term DC fans know, but don’t really care about, and they are rarely used in continuity today. So Loeb and Sale had free reign to do pretty much anything they wanted. It’s an interesting, though uneven attempt, and a decent story about some of DC’s more obscure heroes. There’s quite a bit to like here, though I think ultimately it’s about two issues too long.

KEEP.

Next up: Checkmate to Deadman. Yes, he’s dead, and yes, DC is often a little too “on- the- nose” when naming their characters.

Vancouver International Film Festival – Final Round: Mute magicians and the women that love them

The Illusionist. Directed by Sylvain Chomet.

I thought I’d end my VIFF experience with something of a more populist bent, rather than the indie doom and gloom that I’d been subjected to throughout most of the festival. Sylvain Chomet is one of the most talented film makers working in animation today. He’s probably best known among North American audiences for directing the Triplets Of Belleville, but he’s also a well respected comic book artist.

The Illusionist is an extremely simple story: A down on his luck magician travels to Scotland to resurrect his career. While there, he meets a young girl, and she sees in him an opportunity to get out of her small town life.

It’s one of those rare animated films that doesn’t pander or talk down to it’s audience. It’s also one of the most visually dramatic and beautiful movies I’ve seen this year. Everything is hand drawn. By real people. The attention to detail is stunning, and while it’s not going to provide the chills and spills a western animated blockbuster would, is a must-watch for true fans of the medium.

Rating: A-

(Originally posted at http://www.futureshopforums.ca/t5/Tech-Blog/Vancouver-International-Film-Festival-Final-Round-Mute-magicians/ba-p/232644)

Wednesday Comics Woundup – Mark Millar’s Superior, plus Walking Dead, Hellboy, and a barrelful of monkeys.

Superior #1 by Mark Millar & Lenil Yu

Now that’s more like it.

Anybody who knows me (well not  just anybody. The people who know me who are nice enough to let me vent about comics. So basically my wife) has heard me complain ad nauseum about Mark Millar’s writing, so this was a pleasant surprise.

I’ve never thought that Millar is a bad writer. Quite the opposite. I think he’s got so much potential that it makes me crazy when I see him just pandering to the lowest common denominator in his books. He’s spent so much time in the last few years trying to one up himself in the “HOLYCRAPICANTBELIEVEHEJUSTDIDTHAT” department that he forgets that he’s actually a great character writer and has a real knack for emotional drama.

Enter: Superior. It’s the story of Simon Pooni, a popular high school athlete who had the talent and potential to make it to the NBA. Everything looked great for Pooni, until  the day that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  Now he’s stuck in a wheelchair, most of his friends have deserted him, and his sole pleasure in life are the cinematic adventures of his favourite comic book hero, Superior. Pooni seems to be resigned to a short life full of crushing despair, until the talking monkey shows up.

God, I love comic books.

The monkey tells Simon that out of all of the 6 billion people on the planet, only Simon has been chosen to get a magic wish. The monkey gives Simon a week to “Show me what you can do”, and leaves. Simon is transformed into Superior, the hero of his dreams.

Original? Nope. But that’s not what Millar is about. What he’s about is taking good ideas and making them better. He’s about taking great ideas and distilling them to their simplest, most effective forms. And that’s what he’s done here with the Shazam Mythology. Kick-Ass showed us what being a superhero would be like from the bottom up, but Superior is what it would be like from the top down.  In short, there’s a sense of wonder prevalent here that is missing from Millar’s recent work.

That being said, all that glitters is not gold. It wouldn’t be a Mark Millar comic without some implied homophobia, and although he had a great opportunity here to make a fantastic “all ages” comic, he of course had to throw in a few f bombs where he could. I have no problem with swearing in comics, and I don’t believe in censorship in ANY form, but Millar may be losing some audience here for no real artistic reason.

I’ve said a lot without mentioning Lenil Yu’s incredible art here. His work has really grown on me over the years, and it’s nice to see him finally strike out on his own and do something outside of the regular Marvel U.

Now, this is just a first issue, from a guy that writes better first issues than anyone else on the planet, only to have it all go to shit once it’s time for the story to actually pay off. So it still may all go to hell in a handbasket. But for now, I’m hooked.

Rating: A

Walking Dead Hardcover Volume 6 by Robert Kirkman & Charlie Adlard

How can this be this good after this long? Talented bastard.

Rating: A

DC Comics Presents Jack Cross by Warren Ellis and Gary Erskine.

I own the original mini, but DC just reprinted all 4 issues in a cheap trade edition so I picked this up again. If David Suzuki and Jack Bauer ever had a baby (I’m sorry, I meant WHEN David Suzkuki and Jack Bauer have a baby) that baby would be Jack Cross. Not Ellis’ best, but still fun. I could see this being a great TV series.

Rating: B

Seven Psychopaths by Fabien Vehlman and Sean Phillips.

7 absolutely batshit crazy people team up to kill Adolph Hitler in 1944, only to find out that he’s been dead for 3 years. It’s like Valkrie, but without a gay dwarf in the lead.  Translation from French isn’t great, and the story starts to unravel from almost the minute the mission starts, but it’s still a fun ride.Sean Phillips is on pencils, but I don’t think they take advantage of his talent here.

Rating: C+

I am Legion by Fabien Nury & John Cassady

Basically the Nazis discover a demon that can control others with it’s blood and they attempt to use it in the war. It’s interesting, but the translation here is particularly poor. Fantastic art by John Cassady and a cool concept saves it.

Rating: C+

De: Tales by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba

This is a collection of some early work by two talented rising stars. I like Moon and Ba a lot, but there isn’t much to really sink your teeth in here. Art’s pretty, stories are disposable. There’s definitely some translation issues here as well. Someone needs to make a career out of doing this so that we can start getting more South American and European comics here.

Rating: C

Conan Vol. 9 by Tim Truman and Tomas Giorello

I think I might be done here. I like Tim Truman’s writing, but he seems to be just spinning his wheels here.

Rating: C

Hellboy: Masks & Monsters by Mike Mignola, James Robinson, and Scott Benefiel. This is a collection of  2 early Hellboy cross over stories. First one is Hellboy teaming up with Batman and Starman to fight Nazis, and the other is him teaming up with Ghost, to fight another ghost. This one’s ok, though really only for Hellboy completists.

Rating: C+

Guerillas Vol. 1 by Brahm Revel

The first issue is a great Vietnam war story as seen through the eyes of a new US army recruit trying to follow in the footsteps of his father. It’s funny, and terrible, and sad, with lots of action. And then the monkeys show up. Again. Yes, two monkey books in the same blog posting. This time it’s “squad of genetically modified and highly trained soldiers that smoke cigarettes” monkeys. There is definitely a “WE3” feel about this, though the vibe is a little more over the top. Still, I really liked this, and I’m hoping that Revel does more soon.

Rating: B+

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part Six: DC Comics – Booster Gold to the Brave & The Bold

Booster GoldDC Showcase Presents Booster Gold

This is a black and white collection of a 25 issue series that DC ran in the mid ’80’s shortly after their epic Crisis On Infinite Earths ended. It was a book that was supposed to represent the ’80’s: Material greed and Ayn Randian opportunity pour out of ever page. So as you can imagine with anything that represents it’s time so clearly, it reads as quite dated now. That being said, there’s still quite a bit to enjoy here, Dan Jurgen’s art being the primary reason to keep this book. It seemed to me as if Jurgens was struggling to find a voice for Booster here: He wanted Booster to represent greed and American capitalism, but also wanted him to be a selfless hero. That dichotomy was part of the thing that made this book interesting, but also occasionally inconsistent. After Booster’s book was cancelled, the comedic aspects of the character would be exaggerated and he would spend the next 20 years languishing in B character limbo…..

KEEP

Booster GoldSeries Two Vol. 1-4.

And he’s back! Geoff Johns did such a great job rebuilding this character in the pages of 52 (see my recent Black Adam post) that DC decided to give him his own series. The premise here is quite different from his old series. Rather than trying to regain his fame and fortune, this Booster is doing everything he can to stay under the radar.  He’s essentially a time cop. His job is to repair problems with the time stream, and make sure the things that were supposed to happen, happen. But in order to be effective at that, he needs the world to think that he’s completely inefectual. But in reality, he’s the greatest hero the world will never know.

This book is big time fun. It doesn’t break much new ground, and to say that you have to be a DC continuity expert to really appreciate it is an understatement. But Dan Jurgens has put in some of the best art work of his career on this book, and it was barely noticeable when he took over the writing reigns from Geoff Johns.

KEEP.

Brave and the Bold Vol. 1&2.

When I found out a few years ago that Mark Waid would be writing  a new DC team-up book with George Perez on pencils, I was instantly sold. Yes, that Mark Waid, and that George Perez? Yes. Sold.

The reality of the book ended up being not quite as rosy as I had imagined however. The book was fun, and obviously Perez’ pencils were stunning as per usual. But Waid seemed to be so excited about getting as many of his favourites into each page that the book seemed to lack focus at times. Still stands up as a decent read, but not essential.

KEEP.

Next up: Catwoman, & The Challengers Of The Unknown! She dresses up like a cat, they challenge the unknown.

The Great Comic Book Cull of 2010/2011 Part Five: DC Comics – Batwoman to Black Adam

I’ve gotten a few comments commenting on how little I’m culling, as opposed to keeping. I actually culled quite a bit of Batman, probably half a shelf worth, but right now I’m finding that most of the stuff I’m reading still holds up as worth keeping. I’m trying to downsize my collection, not eliminate it, much to my wife’s dismay.

BatwomanElegy

This the collection of a short run that Greg Rucka & J.H. Williams had on Detective Comics last year, focusing on my favourite lesbian that dresses up like a bat. Sorry, Jody Foster, you’re just going to have to keep reaching for the stars.

J.H. Williams has become one of the most unique and interesting artists in comic books today, and it’s a thrill to see him on a smaller profile book like this. Even if Greg Rucka’s script wasn’t good (it is), I’d keep this just for the art. One of the the best DC books of recent years, and I’m hoping that the new upcoming Batwoman series can keep the momentum going.

KEEP.

Birds Of Prey 11 Assorted Trades.

One of the most successful DC “female” comics.  The concept is this: Barbara Gordon (Quick history: She used to be Commisioner Gordon’s daughter. Then his niece. Then his stepdaughter. Then his daughter again. She also used to be a librarian. Then a congresswoman. Then a librarian again. Somehow in the middle of all this she found time to occasionally be Batgirl, but then Joker shot her and showed her dad/stepdad/uncle naked pictures of her. She’s also now a parapalegic, which I think was the extra cherry on that particular day’s shit sundae. Now she’s called Oracle and works as an IT analyst/information broker for the superhero set.) decides to start sending her own agents out on specific missions she designates. Initially this is limited to Black Canary, but eventually other heroes (Huntress, Lady Blackhawk, etc) join in.

Chuck Dixon was the first writer on this series (orginally a series of minis), and the first two arcs of his run are collected in trade. These trades are decent, and worth keeping if only for Gary Frank’s pencil work, but the misogyny is running high in places. They take every opportunity to showcase Black Canary in skimpy, revealing outfits, and much is made of her horrible taste in men, and how she has very little control of herself around smarmy, overbearing assholes. That being said, it’s a good start to what would become a cult fave among superhero fans. Things went along at a decent pace for about 60 issues, until Gail Simone came along. She almost instantly revitalized the series, to the extent that for a while this was my favourite DC book.

The next 40 issues are a clinic in how to rebuild a character. Simone takes Black Canary from being a B level also-ran, to an A level world-class hero in just a few years. By the end of Simone’s run, Canary is one of the world’s greatest martial artists, and was soon made chairman of the Justice League. Also, this is one of my favourite martial art comic books, and there is more kung-fu asskickery in one trade of this series than a thousand Jackie Chan movies.  

This series isn’t perfect though. The art is inconsistent, especially in later trades, and you can tell that certain editorial decisions (like marrying Black Canary off) don’t sit well with Simone. She left the book soon after, and it didn’t take long for DC to cancel it. Thankfully that’s been rectified, and Gail Simone and Ed Benes are back on the book that they made famous.

KEEP

Black Adam The Dark Age.

One of the best recent examples of character building that I can remember is DC’s 52 series. They took several forgotten or underused characters, and spent an entire year rebuilding those characters, and giving them new purpose. It stuck for the most part, and several of them have gone on to their own series. Black Adam is a prime example of how well this worked, and between 52 and it’s follow up World War 3, Adam had been set up as one of DC’s great villains. This mini dealt with the aftermath of those series, and shows Adam trying to regain both his power and his lost love. Peter Tomasi is one of DC’s stronger contemporary writers, and he crafts an emotional, and effective tale. Black Adam is such a sympathetic character that you can’t help but cheer for him, even when he’s beating the crap out of your favourite heroes. Kudos also to the great Doug Mahnke for his ever improving artwork here.

KEEP

Next up: Booster Gold. Yes, that’s his superhero name. Hey, I just review ’em, I don’t write ’em.

Vancouver International Film Festival Round Seven: The best boring movie you’ll see all year

Another Year. Directed by Mike Leigh.

I like my Film Festivals the way I like my former governors of Alaska: Simple, and easily described in one word. For VIFF, my word this year was disappointing. I won’t tell you what my word for former governors of Alaska is. I’ve seen some good films at VIFF this year, but mostly it’s been a big bucket of blase.

Until Mike Leigh came along and had to complicate things by putting out what was arguably the best movie I’ve seen at the festival so far, and one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

Another Year is the story of Tom (played by the incredible Jim Broadbent), and Gerri (played by the wonderful Ruth Sheen). They’re a typical middle class British family. They live in a typical middle class British neighbourhood. They have typical middle class British friends. They have typical middle class British problems. That’s it. That’s the whole movie. How Mike Leigh turned that pitch into one of the most engaging, likeable films of the year I will never know.

This film is the perfect blend of brilliant script & talented cast. I’m not sure one would have worked without the other, and this film is a perfect storm of independent film making.

Now, I don’t want to oversell this. Nothing happens in this movie that you won’t find in your own house. The characters love. They laugh. They cry. They die. In short, they live. But while my life might be a boring cesspool of mediocrity, the characters in this film embrace their averageness, and in fact thrive on it. I highly recommend this thoroughly enjoyable, utterly charming little masterpiece.

Rating: A

(Originally Posted at http://www.futureshopforums.ca/t5/Tech-Blog/Vancouver-International-Film-Festival-Round-Seven-The-best/ba-p/231206)

The Great Comic Book Cull of 2010/2011 Part Four: DC Comics – Batman & Friends! Part Two!

Sweet Jesus, no more.

Don’t get me wrong. I like good Batman stories. Well, I should considering I own hundreds of them. But I’m really tired of reading about Batman growling at every person he meets: “you’re not equipped to do this job”, and “get out of my town”, and “put a coaster under there”.

So here’s more stories about Batman being an asshole.

Batman & The Phantom StrangerBatman & The Phantom Stranger

Two mysterious assholes, on a quest of some sort.

This is a fairly disposable one-shot featuring Batman with another of my DC faves, the Phantom Stranger. It’s a pretty standard magic mystery, but Arthur Ranson’s pencils put it in the keep pile for me.

KEEP. Barely.

Batman & Punisher – Batman & Punisher Vol. 1 & 2

These are two one-shots that DC/Marvel did about 15 years ago, teaming up two of their most popular heroes. For the most part, I’ve hated the DC/Marvel crossovers I’ve read, but this is a rare exception, in that it’s a story that I would deem as indispensable if you’re a Batman OR Punisher fan. The first one involves the Punisher teaming up with BatAzrael, during the brief time that he was playing the role of Batman in Gotham City. I remember not liking this as much as it’s sequel, but upon reread it actually stands up very well. Barry Kitson does his always bang up job on pencils, and Dennis O’Neil does a nice job of character work here.

The second volume is still the highlight here, in that it’s still the ONLY work John Romita Jr. has ever done on DC characters, and the only time he’s ever done Batman professionally. This book still stands up as a really great action story, and the two page spread of Frank Castle punching out Batman gives me chills. After making fun of him earlier, I really need to give Chuck Dixon credit here for an extremely well-written story. This is better than it has any right to be.

KEEP

Batman & Superman World’s Finest

This is a 10 year old story that still stands up well today. The premise as written by Karl Kesel is that one of their first missions together, Batman and Superman accidentally let a bystander die, and so every year on his death they get together and remember. During the course of the story, we see how they deal with seminal moments in their history: Superman’s death, Batman’s back breaking, Robin’s Bar Mitzvah, etc. Well written story that takes advantage of how diverse each character is.

KEEP

Batman, Superman, & Wonder WomanTrinity.

This is Matt Wagner’s version of the first meeting between DC’s BIG THREE. You can tell how seriously he took this assignment, and throughout the book you feel that this was supposed to be his Final Crisis, or New Frontier. Sadly, this never comes close to those lofty goals, though his pencils look great. Part of the problem is that while this is supposed to be a team of equals, Wonder Woman is written as the junior partner throughout, and in fact spends much of the story in chains. The other problem is that Wagner really doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the mythos. It’s just a decent story, with great pencils.

KEEP. Yes, I’m keeping it. I love the man’s art.

Whew. I’m done. No more Batman. Well, until I hit the J’s, and then we’ve got lots of stories about Batman being mean to the Justice League to look forward to. He’s such a dick.

Next up: Batwoman to the Brave & Bold!