Thursday, January 29, 2009

Chronic Review: Hulk Vs DVD

OK, so this one was a little late. Hulk Vs. was originally slotted to hit stores shortly after the Edward Norton Hulk film. Better late than never?

I guess the good news is that it's a non-stop slugfest, and that has a sort of timeless quality to it. Marvel turned to the attached at the hip team of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost. These are the cats who brought you a recent run of New X-Men and the current run of X-Force.

And if these two are your cup of tea, that demonstrates that A) You're not thinking clearly and B) That you're very likely to enjoy the two lackluster stories that comprise this animated feature.

The Hulk Vs. Thor portion runs 45 minutes and centers around Loki's plan to use the Hulk as a weapon against Asgard in it's weakest moments. For a week per year, ol' One Eye lapses into his Odinsleep, and every jag-off who doesn't like the gods makes a run at Asgard. Then Thor beats them about head, breast, chest, and neck area.

This year Mr. Laufeyson teams up with The Enchantress to throw a giant gamma-irradiated monkey wrench into the works, and hijinx ensue.

There are a couple of interesting elements to the tale. Yost and Kyle take a stab at some complexity by splitting Banner from Hulk. It provides a touch of drama, because it instantly makes the Hulk tougher and Banner infinitely more vulnerable. It also opens the door to a twist that has Thor and Loki teaming up in the third act, and that could have been quite entertaining if executed properly. I'm not sure that it was.

Hulk Vs. Wolverine was shorter at 37 minutes, and the more entertaining section of the video. I enjoyed the voice work on Wolverine. Steve Blum refines the gruff stuff that Cathal Dodd was doing less convincingly on the early 90s X-Men cartoon.

Department H notices that a giant green guy seems to tearing out large chunks of Canada in the most rude manner possible. They decide to send in Wolverine to contain the beast if possible and kill the beast if necessary. Hijinx ensue.

The pound-a-rama gets even better once Deadpool and his band of knuckle heads get involved. I think they went a bit overboard trying to make every moment a one-liner, but Wade Wilson steals the show here, and every moment he's on screen is a highlight.

The problem with the Hulk Vs. is that the creators vaguely understood that an all-out bash and thrash was just what the doctor ordered, but fell a bit short. It was also a bit inconsistent. In Hulk Vs. Thor, we aren't allowed to watch Hulk straddle a fallen thunder god and watch him pound the guy's face into flesh paste. In Hulk Vs. Wolverine, face paste is perfectly fine.

If you want to watch a real Hulk Vs., go back to the original Ultimate Avengers animated movie and watch the last 10 minutes. Now THAT'S a fight. The action in this latest product packs only half the punch and energy of that brouhaha. That's probably the greatest offense - we should be getting amped up action here, not Thorazined down.

This isn't a bad effort, per se. But like most of the Marvel animated movies, it does not wow or inspire. Die hards and 12 year-olds will enjoy it, but there's no compelling reason to pay $15 for it. Netflix this baby if you must, but I don't consider this a must addition to your DVD collection.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chronic Review: X-Factor # 39

OK. So Peter David warned us he was about to unveil his new non-event Event Book. Well, folks, PAD does not disappoint.

Where to start? I guess we start at the beginning with the recap page. Like most Marvel comics, X-Factor always begins with a title page catching readers up on the concept of the team and what's been happening recently. It's a way to ease new readers into the action, although are there such things as new readers in 2009?

At any rate, David does a couple of interesting things before we even get to page one of the actual story. The first thing he does is give a paragraph of "what happened between issues". He essentially burns what would ordinarily be issue # 39 with a paragraph of exposition.

This is a man so eager to get to the "good stuff" that he's discarding his set-up and getting straight to it. I don't think I've ever seen that before.

I'm not entirely sure how to feel about it, either. I would have certainly waited. I don't really feel cheated by what was "skipped". It was just so unprecedented that I wasn't sure how to process it. This is PAD saying "All right, here's all the boring crap you'd need to know before I start blowing your mind".

There's a kind of manic glee to the whole issue, and it's infectious.

The second unusual thing that David does on the opener is write a plea to the readers not to post issue spoilers on the internet. I know I've never seen that in a comic book before.

"Every reader deserves to be as stunned and shocked as you by the developments herein. I am asking you not to ruin it for them."

It was here that I turned up a People's Eyebrow and thought to myself, "PAD, I love you, buddy. But this had better be really good. If you're going to pronounce your own work here as being so supremely awesome that the sublime shock one feels after reading it should be preserved for better be really, really, really good."

Friends, the shocking events of X-Factor # 39 are indeed really, really, really,
really good.

I will not utter one spoilery note about what actually happens in the issue, out of respect for you the reader and deference to The Man, Peter David. I can tell you that what happens is not a cheap marketing stunt. This particular bombshell is horrifyingly logical, organic to the characters and preceding stories, and will wreak massive havoc on this book for the foreseeable future.

Hats off to Peter David for promising the world and then delivering it. This is what comics are supposed to be about, folks. I recommend you not miss it.

- Ryan

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Chronic Update: Ruins

In our latest episode, Quincy and I decided to name-drop Ruins in our usual Woodward & Bernstein fashion without any research, facts, or clue with which to elaborate.

Turns out this one might be a hidden gem, especially for Warren Ellis fans.

Remember when the original Marvels series came out, and Alex Ross wowed all of us with his hyper-realistic take on superheroes? Ruins takes that concept and turns it inside out. In this dystopian version, Phil Sheldon is bumping into monstrosities, pain, suicide, oppression, and a Marvel universe gone horribly sideways.

This was a two issue mini released in 1995, scripts by Warren Ellis (who else would you get to write this?) and pencils by Chris Nielson. The Ruins that comes out on Wednesday (1/2) is a collection of those two issues.

When originally released, each issue retailed for $4.95. Marvel's suggested retail on this 80 page collection is $4.99, which is shockingly reasonable given the current climate of overpricing and whorification. Is this the same company that sent out a 16 page embarrassment called Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes for $3.99? Hard to believe.

All reports are that Ruins is an interesting read, with a gleeful Warren Ellis dismantling anything he can get his cynical mitts on. To give one spoilery example, Sheldon encounters Wolverine. The adamantium in his skeleton has gone toxic, and his flesh is slowly falling off the bone. This series is full of that stuff - fun!

Given the fact that we love Warren here at Chronic Insmonia and the comparatively low price point, Ruins is getting an enthusiastic buy recommendation. Enjoy!

- Ryan

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Mikes Top Ten List 2008 Part Three

Let's continue...
2. Crossed - This is a sick ass book. Ennis is one fuck sick bastard! The images and dialog in this book are not for the faint at heart. Ryan thinks this might be the most important book of the whole year and well I agree with him on a few things, but what makes me like the book is the sickness in which it is NOT afraid to dive into. Read this book at your own risk, but read the damn thing, it's just that good.

1. Wolverine/Old Man Logan - I haven't been as excited about a book coming out monthly as this one. Mark Miller has done it again and hooked me into a great storyline with a familiar character we all really love no matter what we might say at comic book conventions. Miller gets to take this character and create a storyline we never see coming. From inbred Banner children to hack and slash gore, this book has it all. Do yourself a favor and pick up this mini-series or trade when it comes out, you will not be disappointed.

There ya go, there is my list of 2008. I know there aren't many surprises in there for a few of you, but I don't have the arcane comic book knowledge that a lot of you listening and reading have so my list is a little more mainstream.

Some honorable mention should be included in this list since I might have missed a few comics that even I wish I could have included.

Locke and Key - great book by Stephen Kings son. The art is fantastic and it's a surprisingly deep story for a horror book.

Kick-Ass - Great idea for a book, but for some reason it lost me after issue #4. Again Miller is the idea giant, but it’s not executed correctly in some way. That doesn't mean it wasn't good, it just didn't get it's mitts into me as much as some of the others on my actual list.

Salavation Run - Another fun book that doesn't really mean much to me as far as the cannon to the DC universe, but it was a great read. It was simple and straight-forward with decent art and some surprises that I didn't see coming.

Crawl Space XXX Zombies - Now lets be fair, this book is fucking ridiculous and it's story line and art are pretty bad, but even with those severe faults, I still loved it. Any comic book that has a zombie porn star bite off a guys dick while giving him head during a porno photo shoot just because she's hungry is a good comic book in my mind. Did Ennis write this too?

Y The Last Man - I know this book was mostly Pre-2008, but issue #60 came out in January of 2008 and lets be honest here, this was a fucking incredible series of books. Possibly the best I have ever read. It would have been number with a bullet on my list if we were talking about last year. However with only one issue to talk about in 2008, I just couldn't include it on my list.

I would also like to mention some of the books that I thought were total crap this last year. I know that Ryan and I DO agree on a lot of these though so it won't come as a surprise to some of you that Ryan has already ripped these books to shreds in earlier blog entries.

Mikes worst of 2008

Glamour Puss
Jenna Jamesons Shadow Hunter
Grendel: Behold the Devil
Wild Cards: George R.R. Martins

These books were so bad that I couldn’t even get through the entire first issue. Another notable mention in the worst of 2008 list is the Warren Ellis X-Men crap. That first issue he penned was probably the worst comic book I have ever read written by Warren Ellis. If you like to read about the X-men arguing about coffee for five pages then this book is for you. IT SUCKED!


Monday, January 12, 2009

Ryan's Best of 2008: Part V

# 2: Batman - DC

Scripts: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Tony Daniel

Batman is the # 2 book of 2008 because Grant Morrison reminded us all how cool Batman could be in the most debated storyline of the year.

I've already broken down Batman: RIP in this blog, so it's tough to say much more about it without repeating myself. If you haven't read it yet, go back into our archives and look at December - I did a pretty thorough review of the series then.

The key here is that I was originally going to wait for the trade on this one. As soon as I read Batman # 676, I knew that simply wasn't an option. The idea of waiting on this while new material was sitting on the racks was intolerable.

I think most people who who found the ending anti-climactic simply didn't get it. Morrison is smarter than your average bear, and so are his books. This is a story that had me going back to previous issues hunting for clues and foreshadowing. I've probably read Batman # 681 eight or nine times now. Can you remember the last comic that had you going back for more?

# 1: Crossed - Avatar

Scripts: Garth Ennis
Pencils: Jacen Burrows

Crossed is the # 1 book for 2008 because it's the most powerful horror I've ever read, and the most important comic book currently on the stands.

What a revelation this book has been, and what a punch in the guts! I have a high tolerance for horror of all types, it takes a lot to get to me. I have a hard time getting through an issue of Crossed - it's that brutal.

Does that make it a great or even good comic book? No, it does not. Crossed is far more than sheer brutality, though. It's an unflinching look at the human condition, and we need that right now.

It deals with many of the same nihilistic concerns that Nolan's Dark Knight did, albeit with very different answers. Nolan's Batman movie denied the darkness of the human soul. Ennis's Crossed swallows it whole and then shows you the excrement.

We're early in the series (three issues into a planned 10 issue mini) and so it's impossible to tell exactly where we're headed. What's unique about the book to me so far is that the story remains grounded in the group of survivors.

Most stories of this type are about plucky, underrated, and skilled people who improbably fall right into the clues that lead to discovering the mystery of the Great Problem. Then they win and take down the monsters and stick to The Man. But this book isn't about figuring out how The Crossed were created. Most of the characters have given up those notions. In this story, the monster is us.

This book is about the nature of the human animal and what happens to them when it all goes bad. What hurts the most is how viable this world feels and how sympathetic the surviving characters are. It's a kind of psychological Kobayashi Maru, and I've never seen anything quite like it.

Some of you out there are tired of reading Ms. Marvel and bitch, moan, and cry about the fact that the only thing on the racks are sterilized superhero books. If you want a book outside the usual genre with the brass balls to dive into the darkest part of the human heart, you need to be on Crossed immediately.

Michaels Top Ten List Part Two

6. Gravel - When I first read this series I thought that Cris Carter and Lovecraft combined to create this story. I was wrong of course, but it gave me that feeling and Warren Ellis does a great job in this book of giving us a hero who is a complete asshole. Go figure, Ellis is writing gritty and offensive dialog, call me surprised. If you liked the X-Files and also love Lovecraftian horror then this is the book for you.

5. Dynamo 5 - This book grabbed me because it started me in a universe that I didn't need to know anything about before picking it up. So many times we need prior knowledge to start reading a storyline in a comic. In this series Faerber has created a brand new world and a great compelling set of superheroes that really suck at being heroes. Great idea for a comic book and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested along the way.

4. Secret Six - Superhero Mercenaries, how can you go wrong with that? Well you can't. This is a great series for those of you who like heroes that aren't heroes, if that makes any sense. These guys and gals are not that nice and some of the stuff they do is not nice either. Sign me up!

3. Pax Romana - I normally don't like long-winded books like this, but the storyline in this really grabbed hold of my nuts and wouldn't let go. Time travel, Romans and Mercenaries that aren't as nice or noble as they claim to be; A recipe for disaster sure, but also a recipe for a damn fine comic book. Hickman really knows the Catholics and how dangerous they really are. Ryan thinks the Tusken Raiders are the keepers of the arcane knowledge but my bet is on the Catholics.

Next up, my final two books of the list.


Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ryan's Best of 2008: Part IV

# 4: Wolverine - Marvel

Scripts: Mark Millar
Pencils: Steve McNiven

Wolverine is the # 4 book for 2008 because it was the most pedal-to-the-metal fun I had all year reading comics

I want to be clear about something before I start - when I say Wolverine, I mean "Old Man Logan". I'm not talking about what Jason Aaron and Mark Guggenheim did before him. I'm sure it was great. Well, I'm sure the Aaron stuff was at least pretty good. But I don't know, because I didn't read it. So there.

Of all the books on my countdown, it's the Millar titles that are the hardest to place. The problem is that when Mark Millar writes stories, you sit back and look at his concept and your jaw drops. You buckle up for the ride of your life, and for the most part you get it.

But there are also flaws, and Old Man Logan is no exception. Perhaps the most glaring weakness is that fact that you can read any of these issues in about 14 seconds. They are gorgeously rendered, the action is incredible, but it is horribly decompressed. Old Man Logan is the Fruit Stripe gum of comic books.

You also begin to recognize as you trod through the world of Old Man Logan that much of the scenery is actually hollow. There simply isn't enough time to give everything depth here, even without the terrible decompression. So after awhile you take a step back and go "wait a minute - I don't actually know very much about this post-apocalyptic future after all...he's just showing me an endless string of impossibly cool scenes!"

And you could feel bamboozled by that. But I have decided that I don't. I have decided for myself that the endless string of impossibly cool scenes trumps the fact that they occur in a world built of papier mache and cardboard. Cuz the scenes are that good.

If it sounds to you like this is not the kind of testimonial worthy of a # 4 book of the year, well, I don't blame you. I struggled mightily with the placement of this title, even briefly considered leaving it off the list.

But the facts are these: reading Wolverine was a genuinely guilty pleasure every time I picked it up, and I couldn't wait to see what that crazy fucker Millar had in store for me each time. It was the most fun I had all year, and that counts for a lot, actually.

I might wish for more depth. I might wish to have a detailed revealing of how the country was divided by the great villains of the Marvel Universe. I might wish to have a better explanation for why the territory is crawling with goddamn dinosaurs.

But that's not what this story is about. It's about two old gunslingers going up against impossible odds. It's about doing what you can in a world where the bad guys won. It's the mystery of how the planet's most feral warrior became a damn sissie. It's about cannibals. It's about Spider-Bitch.

And it's bloody awesome.

# 3: Green Lantern - DC

Scripts: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Mike
McKone, Ivan Reis

Green Lantern is the # 3 book for 2008 because Johns is ambitiously attempting an epic new comic book
mythos - and he's succeeding.

The event comics at Marvel and DC are designed to trade on the history of their respective universes. These things seem to "matter" because we've been watching them for years, our parents and grandparents knew who Superman was, and so when "big" things happen to these characters we are supposed to feel a certain gravitas about them.

That's why we're supposed to care about Brand New Day and Secret Invasion and Dark Reign and Countdown and World War Hulk and Final Crisis and Batman: R.I.P and Flash: Rebirth and Messiah complex and Annihilation: Conquest and Trinity. (Whew! Ran out of breath) We're instructed to care because these icons are supposedly changing - we're meant to believe we're watching history unfold.

Green Lantern is the only book out today that makes me feel that way. I believe that what Johns is doing with Hal Jordan and the core now is going to shape the way we view these characters for years to come. He is growing the mythos, and it is a wonder to behold.

I'm probably in the minority opinion on this, and I hear quite a bit of GL backlash. Steven Grant's # 1 wish for 2009 in his "Permanent Damage" column is a cease and desist order on more chromatic lanterns. Hannibal Tabu regularly slots the book in his "no, just no" section of "The Buy Pile".

I'll admit that names like Atrocitus border on the hokey, and that there might be such a thing as too many Lanterns. But then again, why would willpower be the only human psychological element you could draw power from? A multi-faceted Corps just makes sense to me.

Kittens puking fiery blood? I consider that precious. The stakes are high in Green Lantern every month, the relationships are complex. You have to love what Johns is doing with Sinestro, who is still very relevant, perhaps more relevant now than ever. This is a space opera done right and done smart.

If you want to watch the birthing of a grander Green Lantern, you need to be on this book now.

Michael's Top 10 List Part One

I would love to draw out my list of 2008, but honestly I am not as fluent with the English language as we can see Ryan obviously is. I am not going to bore you with my seemingly mindless prattles surrounding which books I think are the best and why. I am a simpler sort of person and for that reason my list is going to be simple and straight forward. I feel like I might be disrupting Ryans flow, by putting my list right in the middle of his, and unfortunately it might seem like I am copying Ryan, but I don’t really care, I just want to finish this and get it out. Some could say I read whatever he tells me to, but honestly we have some different tastes when it comes to comic books. If anything Ryan thinks a lot of the stuff I read is Excrement and I think a lot of the things he reads is long-winded. That doesn't mean that we don't meet in the middle on plenty of books. If we were to make a Top 25 list, you would see the difference in how we look at books. But with this Top 10 I am not sure how different we are going to be.

So without further ramblings by me here is my list for 2008. I agree with Ryan about how hard it is to determine enough difference between #5 and #6, but I did my best and I stand by my conclusions.

10. The Boys - Who doesn't love this comic? I have to admit that I fell off this book a little this year, but when I did come back to it, it was as raunchy and raw as it has always been. If you are looking for a shocking, funny book then this is your animal. Ennis is one fucking sick bastard as you will learn much deeper into my list.

9. Hack/Slash - I can't imagine Ryan putting this on his list at all, the writing is not that great and the stories are actually fairly crappy. Why then would I choose it for my #9, well it's because it's a fun book. It doesn't take itself seriously and it chooses to have fun with the genre and I like that a lot. I have to admit the first books in the series are better than they are now, but the comic still holds up as something I enjoy reading.

8. Deadpool – This is a fun book. Each issue is a surprise and “Deadpool” is crazier than ever. I am not a huge “Deadpool” fan at all, as a matter of fact before Ways “Deadpool” I didn't really know much about him, but I am starting to understand the attraction to this character and I really like what Way has done so far with this series. It's a fun and smartly written book.

7. Walking Dead - What can be said about this series that hasn't already been covered? Not much, but I love Zombies (if they are done correctly) and in this book they are nearly perfect. There hasn't been an issue I didn't LOVE of this series. You care about the characters and are shocked when something happens to them. I don't like black and white books at all, but in this book I forgot it was black and white after the first five pages. It's that fucking good!

Stay Tuned for Part Two of my Top 10 List...


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ryan's Best of 2008: Part III

# 6: The Boys - Dynamite

Scripts: Garth Ennis
Pencils: Darrick Robertson

The Boys is the # 6 book of 2008 because it continues to be the greatest achievment in vulgarity on the racks.

Some people don't really "get" The Boys. It's really just two great tastes that go great together.

Taste # 1: Vulgarity. Ennis likes to run without a governor, and God bless him for it. He doesn't like rules, and he doesn't like doing stuff because it's expected. The Boys is a book specifically designed to tear up The Rules, pee on them, and them feed them to The Rules' grandmother. And that's how we like it at Chronic Insomnia.

Taste # 2: Anti-Superheroism. Lots of writers are very vocal about how crappy and limiting they find superheroes. Besides Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and Brian K. Vaughan come immediately to mind. There are scads of others, of course.

The Boys is a vehicle to completely debase everything Ennis can't stand about the genre. And so he takes great pleasure in the book, which in turn helps the reader enjoy it. Because nothing reads better than real passion. And Ennis fucking HATES superheroes.

So you put them together and you have a weekly romp of bad taste and unbridled passion. Dead heroes covered in their own feces, Hughie's defense of the gerbil, that mad Russian's love sausage, and Hughie's "strawberry beard" can I not adore this book?

And to be fair, it's more than just a gross-out affair. Ennis obviously has a detailed plan, and there is genuine intrigue about how this world has come about and what Butcher's plans might do to change things. If they can be changed. If they should be changed by a maniac like Butcher.

And just when you think things have gone too far off the rails, Hughie is there to bring them back to earth. The Boys is smarter and than a fart joke, and I'm glad we have it.

# 5: Buffy Season Eight - Dark Horse

Scripts: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard, Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Georges Jeanty

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight is the # 5 book of 2008 because it doesn't just faithfully capture the television series - it takes it up a notch.

The first thing that strikes you when you read Buffy Season 8 is how completely is embodies the television series in tone and dialogue. I've read Star Wars, Transformers, Indiana Jones, Battlestar Galactica adaptations - nothing comes close to this Buffy book. No matter who Joss assigns to it - they nail it.

And while it would be a supreme achievement to just get that far - to just mimic what was a hall-of-fame TV experience, Buffy Season 8 goes beyond that and uses the comic book medium to revel in all the things they couldn't do on television.

Wouldn't it be fun to make Dawn 60 feet tall or a centaur? Not really a viable option on the small screen, but pretty easy to draw. An army of Slayers? Sounds like an awful lot of special effects, but again, pretty easy to draw.

Hot lesbian action for our lead heroine? A little racy for Standards & Practices, but Dark Horse readers don't mind. (trust me) How about a Fray guest shot? The TV crowd wouldn't even register the reference, but the comics crowd sure does.

Honestly, you need to be familiar with the show to get everything out of the comic series. But I would recommend it to anybody simply because Whedon's hand-picked keepers of the Slayer are producing a surprisingly consistent blend of action and laugh-out-loud humor. It's the best treatment of a licensed property in the history of the medium.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Ryan's Best of 2008: Part II

And the hits just keep ooooooooon comin'!

# 8: Kick-Ass - Marvel (Icon)

Scripts: Mark Millar
Pencils: John Romita, Jr.

Kick-Ass was the # 8 book for 2008 because for all of it's myriad really did kick some serious ass.

Of all the books on my top ten list, this one has by far the most warts. The dialogue is painfully bad in parts. It's paced oddly. It doesn't come out on time. As a reader, you don't really like Dave Lizewski or any other character, for that matter. And for a book supposedly grounded in "reality", Kick-Ass really strains at your suspension of disbelief.

So having said that, how in the hell does this book make a best of list??? The answer is that this comic book is so pure in it's goals and so wild in its execution that no matter how absurd it gets, you cannot put it down.

Kick-Ass is blood simple. You've got Dave Lizewski. He's read a lot of comics, and his life is boring. In the real world, Millar tells us that superheroes aren't created from a sense of justice or vengeance; they are born in loneliness and despair. He's just a normal awkward teenager who puts on a ridiculous costume and hits the streets to fight crime.

Kick-Ass is completely unpredictable. The concept sounds so basic that you'd swear it HAD to have been done before. It hasn't. And every time you think you know where the story is don't. It's better. There's only one book that came out in 2008 that was more pure fun than Kick-Ass - and it was another Mark Millar title we'll meet later, of course.

If you haven't noticed, Mark Millar is the preeminent concept guy in comics. His execution is often suspect, but nobody has better ideas. Simple, powerful, dynamic ideas. If you were foolish enough to start a comic book line right now and were looking for a Stan Lee - phone Mark Millar and pay him well. He'll build you a new universe that will work.

# 7: Invincible Iron Man - Marvel

Scripts: Matt Fraction
Pencils: Salvador Larocca

Invincible Iron Man was the # 7 book of 2008 because it was the perfect vehicle for Matt Fraction to showcase his talent for writing smart action/adventure.

While Kick-Ass might be the most flawed comic on my countdown, Invincible Iron Man might be the most perfectly crafted superhero book on the stands. Fraction brings it all on this title - the characters are vibrant, the dialogue is spot-on and distinct, Tony is brilliant, the stakes are high, the action is amped, and nine issues in we've yet to hit a lull.

I consider Mark Waid's original run on The Flash to be the benchmark of great superhero storytelling. Fraction's Iron Man is succeeding at a similar level for me.

I think the magic here is that Iron Man is facing off against epic opponents. First came a Stane using Tony's own technology against innocent victims. Ouchie. Now everything that he worked for with The Initiative and SHIELD is going to be undermined by a madman who's also hunting him like a dog. And a potential brain-wipe in the works? Now that's entertainment.

I adored what Matt Fraction was doing on The Order and Immortal Iron Fist, but they're both gone. He's got a co-writing credit on X-Men with pal Ed Brubaker, but if youre looking for pure Fraction, you need to be reading Invincible Iron Man.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ryan's Best of 2008: Part 1

Last show Quincy and I promised to put together a list of our top 10 books for 2008. I've decided to start revealing my choices on the blog. The plan is to talk about two per day, and my top two books would then hit the web on Monday, January 12 when we record the next show.

Lists tend to be artificial by nature. Do I really like my #7 book more then my #8 book? I don't know. This was hard for me to do. My number one choice was very easy, and it all goes downhill from there.

A few words about how I constructed my list. Firstly, it's important to recognize that when I'm ranking books, art matters but not very much. Larry Stroman is so bad he can make a good story less enjoyable. Steve McNiven is so good he can help you overlook how trite a book might be. But mostly, I'm judging the quality of a book by the quality of its writing.

Secondly, I'm using many criteria to judge the writing on a book, but my most emphasized element is this: how badly did I want to get my mitts into that next issue and dive in? I like plot complexity and depth of symbols and development of character. These all translate in some way toward quality.

But there are books you read that you can set aside and wait a few days or few weeks or few months and read later. You know they'll be good, but you can wait. The books on my list for 2008 were the books I could not wait for. I HAD to have them - now. That's what all that quality is supposed to translate into.

Thirdly, I need to point out that like many of you, I don't have a budget that allows me to read 100 books a month. So my list is obviously limited to those titles I have read, and I will admit that excludes a lot of mainstream highly acclaimed books.

So don't get mad at me for not including something like Walking Dead. I'm not saying it isn't good, but I haven't read it. So it's not on the list. So without further ado:

# 10: Unknown Soldier - DC Comics (Vertigo)

Scripts: Joshua Dysart
Pencils: Alberto Ponticelli

Unknown Soldier is the # 10 book of 2008 because it was a unique blend of provocative social commentary that included more psychological punching than pretentious preaching.

Joshua Dysart is an on-again off-again pacifist writing about the value of violence in problem solving. It's deep stuff, as befits a Vertigo title.

Dysart spent a good deal of time researching Uganda, which is the setting of the story. Uganda is a political quagmire of splinter groups and contradictions. It would be easy to get lost in this as an outsider, but Unknown Soldier is very good about providing glossaries for terms, lists of names and groups to refer to in the back of each issue, and website help for more depth if you're interested. Dysart is putting a lot of time and essence into this story, and it shows.

The great danger for a title like this would be to pander. This is not a "give peace a chance, all you need is love" sugar pop. This is a compelling look at real life contemporary issue viewed through the eyes of a fictional man named Lwanga Moses. Oh, and he seems to be possessed by somebody who knows an awful lot about the art of killing.

This is a book filled with brutal and beautiful images. It's a book about human beings under intense pressure making impossible choices. It's a book that asks the question; can you fight monsters and stop evil without becoming monstrous and evil? Unknown soldier feels like it matters, and I look forward to it every month.

# 9: Locke & Key - IDW

Scripts: Joe Hill
Pencils: Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke & Key was the # 9 book of 2008 because Stephen King's son Joe Hill stepped up to the plate and announced his comics ascendancy with a genuinely creepy horror tale that pulled no punches.

Try to imagine being Babe Ruth's son and then having to take batting practice in front of the world. This is what I imagine it's like to be Joe Hill and write horror stories. How in the world will you NOT disappoint under those circumstances?

The weird thing is that Locke & Key doesn't disappoint. The dialogue was top notch, the themes were mature and powerful. And those covers were gorgeous.

Some of the symbols and names were hammy and heavy-handed, but at least you knew where you were at with them. Bode Locke and Sam Lesser were particularly well done, both disturbing in very different ways.

Some mysteries are still to be discovered in the next series, "Locke & Key: Head Games". But this is no "Lost", where every question is answered with three more questions. Locke & Key brought it every issue and satisfies on its own merits nicely.

- Ryan

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Peter David: BADASS.

I love Peter David. I've been in love with PAD since 1991, when I picked up Incredible Hulk # 382 for no goddamn reason other than I felt like it. You must understand, dear reader, that in 1991 your standard comic book was $1 and you could do things like that.

I devoured that first David issue and was instantly pummeled by how smart it was. People were saying clever and unexpected things inside that book. Funny things. Awfully bloody funny things.

Characters defied expectations, situations defied expectations. This was a book written by a guy who knew what he was doing, cared about what he was doing, wanted you to care about what he was doing.

He was refreshing. And nearly twenty years later, he still does care, and he still is refreshing.

I was reminded of this fact while reading a interview with PAD regarding X-Factor. The 'Rama talks to all the X-writers on a regular basis, and I mostly forgive them for it. In this case, that interview was a special treat. Here's David on what's coming up in X-Factor:

Here’s the problem: I don’t want to give anything away. Nothing. Anything I would feel comfortable discussing would be so vague that it would ultimately be unsatisfying. As much as I want to get publicity for X-Factor, I'm not sure how to go about it without blowing key points. I can't discuss what happens with the baby without blowing the story. I can't discuss the Sentinels without blowing the story. What I'm trying to establish with X-Factor is that anything can happen and be wholly unexpected when it does. The internet seems to exist almost solely to provide major revelations and thus take the element of surprise out of the writer's hands and ultimately be harmful to comics.

Amen, brother. The thing that I have always appreciated about Peter David's snark is its purity and sincerity. This is not spin, this is a man casting a critical gaze at the current state of affairs and finding it lacking. And you know what? He's right.

In the internet age of instant information and pre-emptive gratification, we don't wait for things any more. By the time a movie, TV show, or comic book actually arrives, the juice has been sucked out of it. We have become a culture that no longer cares so much about artifacts, but about the discussion of the idea of artifacts.

Cloverfield comes to mind as the most egregious example. The goddamn name of the film was changed because there was so much essence poured into talking about the fucking thing before it came out, it seemed wrong to call it whatever it should have been. The hype and the speculation and the bullshit and forums and the message boarding was all in the name of Cloverfield - so that's what it became. That's some powerful bullshit, friends.

And we do it to everything now. Watchmen movie, check. Secret Invasion, check. Heroes, check. Once something is known to exist, it must be examined and judged immediately. There must be reams and reams of mindless yammering on the subject from people with no reason and no taste, every hour of every day.

We need the script leaked before the producer has approved it, we need the cast revealed before the director is phoned, and God Forbid there be any surprises. We don't open our presents on Christmas in 2009. We steal cell phone footage of our parents buying the gifts and then squeeze a giant dump on them before they're ever wrapped.

It SUCKS. It's unnecessary, it's counter productive, and it SUCKS. You don't hear much bitching about it from creators, certainly not comic creators. It's considered poor taste, biting the inbred hands that just barely feed you. It's considered bad business to upset the cyber-boat, the supposed Templars of the Comic Grail.

I say bullshit. I say it's a good thing that there are still men like Peter David who actually care and actually have a pair to put nonsense in its place.

Listen, I recognize that I'm old. I'm old, and I don't belong here. When I was reading comics back in The Day, you didn't get solicitation copy months in advance, and there was no newsarama to kill the things before they were born. You read things, you tried new things, you talked about them with your friends or with cronies at the comic shop. There was still bitching, and there was still anticipation, but there was also wonder and surprise.

Where is surprise in 2009? We're numb to it. Most everything is given away and old news before the actual copy hits the page, and even if an unrevealed twist did sneak in - what of it? In 2009, it just gives way to the next twist next month. Worlds crumble every week now, what of it?

So here's Peter David to the rescue as outlined later in the interview:

People feel the book has been unfocused or less compelling than it should be. I agree. Beginning with issue #39, I am taking proactive steps to answer all those criticisms and more. My goal is more than just to turn this book around. My goal is nothing less than to triple sales before year's end. I want X-Factor to be a book for which waiting for the trade is simply not an option: Readers have to pick up the latest issue. I want them to feel that nothing is off limits; that anything can happen, and that they absolutely have to be there when it does. I want fans to get to the last page of an issue and they can't believe what they're seen. I want them to feel emotionally wrung out by the end of the book. I want there to be at least one, if not more, ‘Oh my God’ moments in every damned issue.

Do you see what I mean about the caring? He's turned his caustic glare at himself and recognized that his own work has been lacking. And it has. I've been with X-Factor from issue # 1, and I'll tell you that it's still been better than 98% of what's out there, but since Layla disappeared the book has been missing something. And he's dedicated himself to getting it back. And I'll bet you he does.

Notice that he didn't say the usual excrement about "new direction" or "things will never be the same again". He's not talking about an "event" book, he's talking about making interesting things happen in each issue.

He's not talking about changing the way we view X-Factor forever. He's talking about making you want to read the next issue when you finish the one in your hands. This is a very simple concept that is sorely lacking in comics today.

Events promise (or more accurately over-promise) about the brave new worlds they are taking us to. This is why Peter David and my new found friends Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning will always have a place in my heart. It aint about the destination, it's about the ride.

Here's a promise you can trust- beginning with X-Factor # 39, you're going to want to be on that ride.

- Ryan