Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rapid. Fire. Reviews.

I read a metric ton of comics worth talking about.  Because of the volume, I'm going to attempt efficiency.    When I start to go long....tell me to shut up!

The Auteur # 5.

HOLY SHIT.  I want to write many paragraphs on Auteur.  I may at some point.  For now, let me just sum it up thusly...this is the series of the year for me.  There are a few months for something to knock it off the King of the Mountain, but it would have to work awfully damn hard.

We talked about Auteur a couple of times on Chronic Insomnia, always in a positive light.  Auteur kinda dresses itself up as an untamed stallion - the spectacle is refreshing, but in the end it's hard to know what to do with pure chaos other than smile, clap, and move on.  Auteur is absolutely NOT a mad stallion, and it is not chaos.  I hesitate to use the "G" word, but I'm calling it a work of subversive genius. I think it's best to read Auteur and be surprised about what it's doing.  So for now, I'll say no more.

Black Market # 1

Black Market is not genius, but it is pretty entertaining.  It's also a very rare jewel in the comics scene - it does not bend the knee to the Bunny Briar.  The hook is that medicine has discovered a potential cure-all in the form of superhuman DNA.  Our POV characters are involved in extrapolating said DNA from said supers....whether they like it or not.  They incapacitate, capture, and violently rob DNA from largely innocent victims.  You understand why some of these regular folks would want to do that, but they're portrayed as total dicks.

The obvious parallel here is stem cell research...which would lend itself toward poking at the Religious Right.  That's not actually how the book operates, though.  It's functioning more as a bitch-slap to the lazier end of the 99%, believing they're owed something from the exceptional just cuz.  That makes it extra interesting to me, although I would have to say that stripped of the political score-keeping, Black Market is just middle-of-the-road in plot and character. 

Sinestro # 4

Echhh, what a waste.  I love Sinestro the character very much, and he spends a lot of time tripping over interesting things that are never properly explored.  As a small of Sinestro's core elements is a fierce loyalty to all things Korugar.

So he's been introduced to a handful of his own people, once believed lost forever.  There's a lot to be mined from interacting with those folks and deciding what to do with them.  If you wanted to, you could really paint from the current Palestine/Israel canvas.  That would take giant brass testicles, so one might eschew that option and just add depth to the character by having him really get involved with these people's lives.  My point is that he just carries these people around like inanimate trophies.  There's plenty of juice there, but it's just ignored.

What we get instead is more nonsense about emotion colors and things that counter-act emotion colors, (still not clear when "willpower" became an emotion exactly, but I'm willing to let that go) and posturing, and an incredibly pedantic love/hate relationship with his Green Lantern daughter.  And look, next issue he talks to Hal! (The cover would have you believe this issue is about that.  It's not.  The cover is a liar head) Which admittedly will be far more entertaining than anything that's happened in the first four issues, but man.  Talk about going back to the whip a little too often.  This comic should be a lot better than it is.

Grimm Tales of Terror # 1

On the other end of the pool, here's a comic a lot better than it should be.  Zenescope gets a bad wrap for it's shameless cheese-cakery and empty contents.  I have dropped trow and pooped on these comics myself, mainly because I find the interiors of Zenescope books tend to pale when compared to the covers, and I generally find the stories to be empty calories.

I don't know if they're just putting their best foot forward for a new # 1 or if this comic is indicative of the current Zenescope, but I was delighted by Tales of Terror # 1.  The unnamed narrator may look like a giant whore on the cover, (we have to sell these things in a tough market, dig?) but inside she's dressed tastefully, speaks eloquently, and genuinely seems to have her shit together.

The story inside was competently executed on all counts.  They're updating classic horror stories the way they updated fairy tales in the flagship book.  This comic puts a fresh twist on Poe's "Telltale Heart", which in this case means blending it with Stephen King's "Boogeyman".  Are they re-inventing the wheel?  Probably not.  This played out like an above-average episode of Tales From the Darkside, and jinkies, I'm in for that as long as they'd like to publish it.

Weird Love # 2

Man, this book is great.  If you just can't tolerate one more second of the bullshit-dripping 21st Century and it's obsession with avoiding hurt feelings.... you MUST buy this comic.

Craig Yoe is pulling the most bizarre gems from the romance genre, much of it from the pre-code era.  The standout in this issue was absolutely "Too Fat For Love", which is exactly what you're thinking it's about, and even more awesome than you're hoping it is.  The ending is so absurd you just want to punch yourself in the face, and by the way, that's precisely what I want out of these comics.

In the horrifyingly stifled modern era, every one of these stories comes off as so fresh, unashamed, and honest.  I never want this to stop.

Armor Hunters # 1

I worry about Valiant now, and I was dreading this when I saw the solicitations.  I don't really want Events out of Valiant, I want them to continue to be Valiant.  That means the Events are born from the consequences of the rich characters and their decisions, not some impossibly obvious title that sounds suitably violent and action-packed. It smells like money-driven desperation from a distance.

Once I got a good close sniff, though, I was pretty much worried about nothing.  The Armor Hunters themselves are coming from a little out of left field and not from an established place, I guess, but that's no crime..  The hook is that galactically speaking, X-O armors are not neutral tools that can be used positively or negatively.  X-O armors are giant assholes that always end up taking over their hosts and ripping shit apart.  So the Armor Hunters are bad asses devoted to wiping these things out.

Needless to say, Aric is not going to buy into any of that, and he isn't going to just hand over his good skin.  That's way more than enough to hang a nice event on, and it does so while strengthening the X-O mythos in a new way.  I still worry about Valiant, because the sales aren't there.  The quality, though?  That has been remarkably consistent.

PS:  I bought a chromium cover for this issue, and I apologize for nothing. 

Devilers # 1 (Dyanamite)

Dynamite is clearly trying to re-make a piece of themselves in the image of Image with their new "creators unleashed" line.  That's not the worst idea in the world, actually.  I never really understood the licensing angle myself.  You're going to pay licensing fees on top of the creator costs and then sell 6,500 copies of Duke Nukem or whatever?  I don't know where the profit is hiding in that arrangement.  But I digress.

UPDATE:  I guess this is how you find the profit - you get yourself a pony license and then sell half a million "fun packs"

The Devilers are not a licensed property, but a bunch of new demon-hunters from the mind of Joshua Hale Fialkov.  Go, Creators Unleashed! The gist is that The Vatican cut a literal deal with The Devil to keep Hell out of earth.  Since The Devil is not really a reliable dude, he welshes on the arrangement and the expected sort of global level hijinx ensue.

I'm not in love with any of these characters yet, but the stakes are high, things are moving, and there might be a really good book in here somewhere.  I like the tone.  It's not quite as footloose as say, Buckaroo Banzai, but neither does it take itself too seriously.  That feels about right.  If the price point stays at $2.99, I might stick around to see if it's going somewhere.  These reviews are getting too long.  Doh!

Supreme: Blue Rose # 1

Lately I like to tout Fiona Staple's Alana as the sexiest woman in comics.  Turns out, that is incorrect.  Turns out, the sexiest woman in comics is actually Tula Lotay's Diana Dane.  That's not the reason to read this comic, but it certainly is a reason.

I had to catch up with Supreme on his wiki page in order to glean what I needed to get within 30 miles of whatever the fuck is going on here.  If that sounds unkind, let me be clear - I really, really enjoyed this issue.  It's simply not one of those vaunted "great jumping on points."  If you're familiar with the Supreme mythos, my assumption is that you'll find this a shockingly sophisticated, welcome addition.

PS:  Warren is back with a vengeance and taking different paths in his newer work.  You can still catch a strong scent of the old dialogue for sure, but also twists.  This Diana Dane voice....I don't believe we've gotten that from Warren yet.  I'm in for the series, and also glad that this isn't pretending to be an ongoing.  It's not pretending to be an ongoing, is it?  This should just be a wonderful little thing that lives on its own in one trade paperback.

Nightbreed # 3

I have a fondness for these characters, so I've been enjoying this a great deal.  If you don't know or care about Boone or Peloquin, I can't imagine you giving a shit about what goes on here.

On the plus side, one of the Midianites has a bunch of babies hatch from eggs, and the torch/pitchfork wielding yokels are given pause in their murderous intent when one of the babies begins reciting The Lord's Prayer.  Yikeez.  So I think on some level Clive Barker would be proud.

The Woods #3

A bunch of high school kids get spontaneously transported to an alien world.  They are given some non-verbal cues to enter this Thicket of Impending Doom.  A scant few do take on this challenge.  The rest retreat into the school and start recreating those old Stanford prison experiments.

If you thought you were going to like Morning Glories and then dropped it after 7 issues because it was just getting too deep and too might want to try out The Woods.  It has a lot of similar interests, but the path is far more straight, and the engine is moving more quickly.

Afterlife With Archie # 6

We take a break from Riverdale and catch up with Sabrina, who of course got the ol' gulag from her aunts when she resorted to dark sorcery.  So what's up with 'Brina these days?  Well, she's being constantly harried and pyschologically tortured by the most Cthhulhian agents of all - HP Lovecraft and Arthur Machen themselves!
 I won't ruin any more of the surprises in this comic, but they are big, and they are bold.  If the objective was to make me interested in the upcoming Sabrina series....mission accomplished.  Every time I think this series can't get better, it taps me on the shoulder and says

"Hey.  I'm better".

Then I smile and remark inwardly to myself

"I can't believe that Archie is actually producing this comic.  We are going to remember this for ages."

And that's a good thing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Thor (1998) # 22
Market Spotlight:  Thor Girl

I've been thinking about possible plays on the recent Thor news.  However one might feel about the scenario, it's received a good dollop of media attention, and it's taking over a really strong title for a furlong.  Whoever that woman carrying Thor's hammer may be....she's not a nothing.  For better or for worse, in the short term she's A Thing.

Here comes the fine print advisories:

What I'm talking about here is reckless speculation.  I don't know anything about the future contents of the Thor title.  Even if I did know that, it is grand hubris to believe one can predict exactly how the market will respond to any given stimulus.  This play I'm sharing with you is thick with risk, is what I'm telling you.

I'm telling you to consider rustling through the longboxes of your local LCS for appearances of Tarene.  Her first appearance is Thor (1998) # 22, by Dan Jurgens and John Romita, Jr.  She's got a moderately interesting and convoluted backstory that includes cosmic-level abilities, a magic hammer, connections to Thanos, and a brief stint as something called Thor Girl.

Thor (1998) # 33
Thor Girl makes her first appearance in Thor (1998) # 33, with a lovely cover by Andy Kubert and Richard Isanove.  First appearances generally rule the day, but the cover for Thor # 33 really pops, and gets more to the heart of the public fascination.  If Tarene does indeed pick up Thor's hammer, these issues become instant magnets for the reactionary set. 

Why?  Is there any chance we're thinking about this character a year from now?  Three years from now?  Possible, but highly unlikely.  This is the kind of volcanic explosion I'm happy to cash out on and then duck out of the way.  In the hands of Jason Aaron and company, it is possible the new Thor has legs, (pun mostly intended) but history is working against her.

What If (1989) # 51
It's entirely possible that the new Thor has absolutely nothing to do with Tarene.  Even in that case, I can see a potential window for these books, especially Thor # 33.  Remember back when Marvel was teasing that star logo around Fraction's Punisher War Journal book?   The whispers in the dark decided that Punisher was going to take on the mantle of Captain America, and suddenly What If # 51 went from a $1 dust
collector to a $40 must-have. 

We're talking about a book that was strictly outside of continuity and didn't have a damn thing to do with the actual narratives at work.  When people get worked up about a thing, logic takes a holiday.  If the new Thor is a girl, those Thor Girl books may see a sharp spike whether the mystery woman is Tarene or not.  For a couple moments, at any rate.

Upon reflection, I guess the risk I'm advocating is pretty minor, because I don't advise throwing a whole lot of money into it.  The odds are good that your local shop either A) Doesn't have these books or B) They will have them available for $2 or $3.   I don't like the idea of paying more than $5 for these at any point, but your tolerance for pain may be greater than mine.

Still, it wouldn't surprise me at all if these were $25-$50 comics in October.  If you want to take a little risk and try to get ahead of this thing, Thor # 22 and # 33 are cute little lottery tickets.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

If you think she's Thor.....I can barely sit down!

So, Marvel was pretending to have news today in that adorable way they always do - by spouting meaningless hyperbole and lies.  In case you missed it, Thor will be a woman starting in October.

Except, she won't be Thor.  Can't be Thor.

Thor is not a mantle, or a title.  It's a guy.  Thor is a person.  Yeah, he might be Asgardian, but I think we still have to call him a person.  It's not an separate identity.  "The God of Thunder" is his separate job title.  Somebody else, perhaps even a woman, could be that.  Well, technically she'd be a Goddess, and wouldn't that send The Bunnies into a tizzy?  Might be worth it just for that.

Thor is a guy, and he has a magic hammer.  The hammer's inscription says this:

"Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor."

Marvel's press release is interested in the "he" part of that inscription, because in 2014 you are contractually obligated to be obsessed with gender relations at the expense of all logic.  If logic were in play, they'd be more worried about the "power" part of the inscription.

So keep up with me now....even if you lift the hammer, you don't get to BE Thor, you get to possess the POWER of Thor.  If you grab my spatula, you don't become me.  You stay you, except now you need to wash your hands.  Because I know stuff about that spatula that you don't.

But that's not how Marvel is spinning this. They're saying this mystery woman IS Thor, which is patently stupid.  Marvel says a lot of stupid things.

As an example, editor Wil Moss says "This Thor isn't a temporary female substitute - she's now the one and only Thor!"

This tells me one of three things:

A)  Wil Moss is a dirty, dirty liar
B)  Wil Moss is not in any way familiar with comic books
C)  All of the above

I suspect it's C, but I'll believe any of those options.  Marvel likes to pretend that there's overlap between the movie audiences and comic book readership.  The instant that Hemsworth bloke comes back to the theaters as Thor....the uterus is goin' bye-bye. 

Marvel says this is one of the most shocking and exciting changes to one of the "Big Three" (Cap, Iron Man, Thor) in history.  They're wrong.

This is just the transparent implementation of two agendas:

Agenda # 1:  Get a new # 1

God forbid we have a title run for three years consecutively.  The strategy is now is to pray they can keep a title afloat for 8 issues.  If it won't die on its own in 20 issues, time to actively kill it.  This is not "exciting", it's tedious and reckless.

Agenda # 2:   Pander to Bunnies For Good Public Relations

Marvel openly admits the move is designed to attract female readership.  Apparently, women are only capable of being interested in reading about other women?  This is a good thing to say publicly, because if you just repeat the same tired nonsense about a lack of "strong female leads" and readers "needing to find themselves in the comics", people still clap when you finish.

It's all rubbish.  I just watched "The Strain" premiere, and my favorite characters are the old Jewish guy with the sword cane and that Ephraim dude's partner with the CDC.  Contrary to popular belief, I am not an old Jewish man.  If a couple of young toughs entered my pawn shop and tried to rob me, I would wet myself, not take a knife to one of my assailants and force the other to surrender his weapon.

I have zero in common with the CDC woman.  She doesn't look, talk, or act like me.  I like her just fine, but she's not really what's drawing me into the story.  I like the plot and the heightened drama of the story.  I like the "how in the world is the human race ever going to get out of this pickle?" angle.

So either I'm an outlier, or this whole business of needing to find oneself in the story is overplayed.

The mistake here is in assuming that women wouldn't like the previous issues of Thor: God of Thunder, a premise I reject entirely.  This stuff always sounds good at first blush.  It seems reasonable that Marvel should want to accommodate female readers by showing them a character to identify with.

The problem is that in their effort to placate The Bunnies and show everyone how Not Sexist they are, Marvel shows their true sexist colors.  Women don't need a pair of breasts on the page to get engaged, they want what a everyone else wants.....a good story.

And the truth of the matter is that Jason Aaron has been telling really, really good Thor stories that just about anybody can enjoy regardless of plumbing.  Why would you feel the need to dangle a ponytail in front of women as bait?  The book doesn't require it. Women like Thor just fine! Don't take my word for it, Comic Book Girl 19 will tell you all about it.

That should be the news!  Why ISN'T that the news??? Hey ladies, did you know that comics are fantastic and all that mythological garbage about rampant sexism is complete bullshit?  That should be the message.

Instead, Marvel tries to trumpet this ridiculous marketing scheme as some engine of social change.  They're trotting their "strong female lead" out there like they just found The Loch Ness Monster or something.   I'm strangling the next person I hear utter that absurd bullshit about a lack of strong female leads.

Because when you think about it, these are the only strong females carrying their own book right now:

  • Ms. Marvel
  • Captain Marvel
  • Cassie Hack
  • Shutter
  • Hinterkind
  • Princess Ugg
  • The Princess from Princeless
  • Bold Riley
  • Lazarus
  • Veil
  • Queen & Country
  • Everything that ever has been and ever will be written by Greg Rucka
  • Wonder Woman
  • Rat Queens
  • Supergirl
  • Batgirl
  • Batwoman
  • Brian Wood’s entire X-Team
  • Pretty much everybody driving Wicked + Divine
  • Catwoman
  • She-Hulk
  • Black Widow
  • Myriad Birds of Prey
  • Red Sonja
  • Courtney Crumrin
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Rachel Rising

You know...just those, and about 57 others that simply didn't spring immediately to mind.  Those are just the women driving their own titles.  That's not even scratching the surface of the strong female supporting cast like Storm, Sue Storm, Lois Lane, Anna Maria (Spider-Man), Mary-Maria (Archer & Armstrong), Maria Hill (SHIELD/SWORD), Kitty Pryde, Valkyrie, Sif, and we could go on for days and days with this stuff.

The question is agency.  Women need to be portrayed as making decisions in their own lives and taking actions to achieve those choices.  Let me ask you you know of ANY female character in ANY comic that isn't doing that?  Not only are comics not sexist in 2014, they are so actively Not Sexist that it's difficult to find a character with a uterus and an ounce of real vulnerability.  At this point women are kicking all asses, all the time. That's reality.  And that's fine, but then what is gained by pretending otherwise?

Yes, Zenescope has issues.  Yes, Vampirella's costume is deliciously absurd.  I'm not blind. I don't see these as crisis level problems, though.  There is nothing wrong with sexy women being sexy.  The problem arrives when that is all they are allowed to be.  I just ripped off a list for days of women that have more going one for them than attractiveness.  Can you name five that are limited to sex objects?  I rather doubt it.  Take a whack at it in the comments if you like.

My final judgement on Mystery Uterus Thor is that I trust Jason Aaron enough to believe that the stories will be good, so I'm not going to melt down about it.  It is depressing, though, to see all the wrong angles get all the headlines, as per usual.

PS:  Not that it matters, but it's Angela.