Tag Archives: Marvel

Hulk Smash?

With an opening weekend box office of about $55 million, folks are calling The Incredible Hulk a “hit” and a “success.” Maybe. But, is it any good? That’s the question people should be asking. Let’s be honest, making tons of money doesn’t mean a movie is any good–I give you Titanic and Ang Lee’s Hulk (which had a $62 million opening). All I can say is this: The Incredible Hulk is pretty much the movie I would have made.

I feel that it’s important to begin by telling you that I was not a fan of 2003’s Hulk. I like Ang Lee and all, but you really need to think before you hand a comic book movie to an “art house” director–panels, Lee? Really? Fucking panels!!–especially a comic book movie starring a character like the Hulk. There’s a lot of subtext in the character that could, if you’re not careful, lead to a lot of psychoanalytical Freudian wankery. But, the problem is, as legitimate as this analysis might be–particularly given Hulk’s Jekyll and Hyde pedigree–the Hulk is not what one might call introspective. No. Hulk…well, Hulk smash! That’s it. That’s the Hulk’s reason for being. He is an unstoppable, rage-fueled engine of destruction. Lee’s Hulk was too light on smashing and too heavy on hashing–as in “hashing it out.” Sorry, Ang, but you’re movie just spent way too long talking about shit and not nearly enough time showing it. I had no problem with the abusive father back-story or (believe it or not) the Hulk-dogs–they’re both canon, so I’m okay with them. I did, however, think the climatic “battle” between Eric Bana’s Banner and Nick Nolte’s Pa Banner was a bit…um…strange. Seriously, was Nolte supposed to be the Absorbing Man? Oh, and did I mention those damned on-screen panels? I did? Okay then.

I guess that brings me to Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk. Now this is a Hulk movie. This Hulk takes liberally from both the Marvel comic and the classic ’70s television show. Edward Norton does an admirable job as Bruce Banner (a role he almost played back in 2003), who’s on the run in South America. Norton’s Banner is a quiet intellectual with that goofy charm that Norton can do so well when he’s not playing a complete prick. Norton’s Banner doesn’t have to tell you how much he hates the thing inside of him. You can see it on his face every time his heart-rate approaches 200, or in the moment when he reaches the inevitable conclusion that sometimes the best tool for the job is a massive, green-skinned juggernaut. Norton is ably assisted by the rest of the cast–including the always eeevil Tim Roth as aging soldier Emil Blonsky, who juices up on Banner-gravy to become the Abomination, and William Hurt as perennial Hulk-hunter General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (although I am curious to know what happened to Sam Elliott…were he and his mustache busy?). The only real weak link in the cast was Liv Tyler. Don’t get me wrong, I love Liv. I’ve always loved Liv, ever since Empire Records and those oddly sexual music videos she made for her dad’s band. Hell, I’d crawl naked over broken glass and swim through a mixture of rubbing alcohol and lemon juice just to be in the same room as Ms. Tyler…but, I had a bit of a hard time believing her portrayal of scientist Betty Ross–granted, it was nowhere near as difficult as it was believing that Denise Richards could spell “nuclear scientist” much less be one. I guess that’s why Leterrier had her put on her “smart girl” glasses whenever she had to be all science-y.

As for the Hulk himself, I think Hulk ’08 is an improvement over Hulk ’03. Leterrier’s redesigned Hulk looks dangerous. He’s all muscular and veiny. He looks like power incarnate:


Lee’s Hulk looks like he’s trying to sell you frozen vegetables:

I’m willing to chalk this up to technological improvements in CGI in the last five years (yes, I’ve accepted the fact that there is no way that Hollywood would make a Hulk movie without a CG Hulk). Of course, given the numerous ways that the character has been portrayed over the decades–grey, green, smart, stupid, gigantic, not-so-gigantic–both versions are, technically, valid. This new Hulk, however, is just closer to the way I prefer the character to be. I like my Hulk big and dangerous. I like him to throw shit and cause ridiculous amounts of collateral damage because he doesn’t know better. He should be a little talky, but not overly verbose or intelligent. I can’t remember if Lee’s Hulk spoke, but Leterrier’s does, and his sparse dialogue (yes, including “Hulk smash!”) is roared by Lou Ferrigno (television’s Hulk), who also has a cameo as a security guard (yes…again).

Unlike its predecessor, The Incredible Hulk takes full advantage of the forty-plus years of Hulk-story, not to mention the new toys in Marvel’s movie sandbox. Borrowing from Bruce Jones’ run on the Incredible Hulk comic, Banner is assisted in his search for a cure by the mysterious Mr. Blue, with whom he communicates via instant messenger. In the movie’s universe, the creation of the Hulk is tied to the U.S. military’s attempts to recreate the super-soldier serum that created Captain America, which is lifted from Marvel’s Ultimate Universe (where, in case you didn’t know, Nick Fury looks suspiciously like Samuel L. Jackson). In addition to General Ross and Blonsky, Banner has a run-in with Samuel Sterns (played by Tim Blake Nelson), who’s destined to become Banner’s super-intelligent nemesis The Leader. Other characters who pop-up in one form or another include sidekick Rick Jones (whose name appears on a list of Banner’s known associates) and Doc Leonard Samson (played by Ty Burrell)–although, if you hadn’t been following the pre-release media machine, you could have missed that Burrell’s character is actually Doc Samson. In a nod to the television series, the iconic “Lonely Man Theme” is used while Banner hitchhikes his way across Central and South America, and one of the Hulk’s rampages is caught on film by college journalism major Jack McGee. Sadly, the classic line–“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”–is once again missing, in English anyway. There’s a Portuguese version, played quite effectively for laughs, where Banner confuses the Portuguese word for “angry” with the word for “hungry.” And, in addition to the veiled reference to Captain America, Stark Industries is mentioned numerous times, and Robert Downey, Jr. steals the movie with a forty-second cameo as Tony Stark.

In the final analysis, The Incredible Hulk isn’t as good as Iron Man (which has raised the bar for super-hero movies as far as I’m concerned), but it’s a pretty good sophomore attempt by Marvel’s new film division. It’s certainly earned a spot in my DVD collection, something that Ang Lee’s Hulk didn’t accomplish.

Thank You, House of Ideas. Thank You.

Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, told Sci-Fi Wire that Marvel’s Captain America flick will be a period piece set during World War II and that Thor will take place predominantly in Asgard. The Cap thing is a serious no-brainer, but that doesn’t mean it was a foregone conclusion. As for Thor…well, I really couldn’t give two shits about the character–I’m not saying he’s a bad character, but he’s just never been on my radar–but, I’ve been saying for years that any Thor flick should take advantage of the post-Lord of the Rings goodwill and just be about a bunch of Vikings beating the crap out of monsters.

All this and a Runaways movie written by Brain K. Vaughan? Thank you, Marvel. I might not dig a lot of what’s going on during this whole “House of the Brand New Secret Civil Messiah Invasion War” thing you guys got going on, but you seem to be doing solid work on the feature film front.

Let’s Cast…THE AVENGERS

With Iron Man steamrolling its way through the box office, it looks like Marvel’s new film production arm is giving the green light to a bunch of movies, all leading up to The Avengers. Since Marvel is busy with Brand New Days and Secret Invasions, I thought I’d give them a hand with casting.

The Plot: Loki, Norse god of mischief, has come to Earth in an attempt to destroy his half-brother, Thor, once and for all. He tricks the Hulk into going on a rampage, forcing Nick Fury and SHIELD to assemble a team of heroes to take the Green Goliath down before he can cause too much destruction.

The Cast: Three of the main characters have already been cast in other movies–

Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark

Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Nick Fury of SHIELD

Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner

Here’s how I would fill out the rest of the cast:

Kevin McKidd as Captain America/Steve Rogers

A child of the Depression, Steve Rogers volunteered for a top secret experiment during WWII, becoming Captain America. Believed killed in action, Rogers was actually frozen in suspended animation for over 60 years. Though still awe-inspiring on the battlefield, Cap finds himself trying to come to grips with the 21st Century.

Sean Bean as Thor/Dr. Donald Blake

Son of Odin, a god amongst men. To learn humility, Thor was sent to Earth in the form of Donald Blake. However, when his wicked half-brother arrives, Thor does battle as only a god of Asgard can.

Michelle Monaghan as Wasp/Janet van Dyne

The brilliant and beautiful daughter of Vernon van Dyne, co-creator of the miniaturization technology known as “Pym” particles. When her father was killed during a break-in at his lab, Janet uses his invention to become the tiny, but deadly, Wasp.

Paul Walker as Ant-Man/Scott Lang

A petty thief and electronics whiz, Scott Lang was in the wrong place at the right time when he broke into the van Dyne home one night. Interrupting the men who had murdered Dr. van Dyne, Scott dons the Ant-Man costume and teams up with van Dyne’s daughter, Janet, to bring the murderers to justice.

Ryan Reynolds as Hawkeye/Clint Barton

Barton’s a highly trained Army sniper. When his unit is wiped out during one of the Hulk’s rampages, the cocky and arrogant marksman takes it upon himself to track the Jade Juggernaut and make him pay, a course of action that brings Barton face-to-face with Fury’s Avengers.

Alan Tudyk as Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym

Vernon van Dyne’s partner and co-creator of “Pym” particles. Dr. Pym had hoped to use the particles himself, but they reacted badly with his immune system, forcing him to abandon any dreams he may have had to be a hero. He joined Fury’s Avengers Initiative where he serves as head scientist and “exposition monkey.” Now he stands on the sidelines, watching the woman he loves fight injustice alongside another man. (Can you think of a better reason why he would create the evil robot Ultron in Avengers 2?)

Dylan Moran as Loki

When the Norse god of mischief learns that Thor has been banished to the mortal realm, he can’t help but come to see for himself. He encounters the Hulk during one of his rampages and tricks the Green Goliath into helping him torment his half-brother.

Weekly Comic Review for 4/23/08

Batman #675

W: Grant Morrison

A: Ryan Benjamin

Okay, I think I’ve finally gotten the hang of how Morrison writes Batman. He starts with a bunch of issues that don’t seem to make any sense whatsoever–including references to and appearances by characters who haven’t been seen or heard from in over two decades–and he somehow…somehow…ties it all together at the end. This leaves me with a book that, although still good as a whole, has months where it sits at the bottom of the “to read” pile.

This issue has something that I haven’t seen in quite some time: a Bruce Wayne babe with a brain. Jezebel Jet might look like all of the other brainless arm-candy that Bruce escorts around town in an attempt to foster his image as a billionaire playboy, but she’s intuitive enough to recognize that Bruce, the real Bruce, is a much darker soul than his public image might suggest. She senses his true face behind the mask of the bored billionaire. It’s possible that it could have ended there. Bruce would have just walked out and she’d never hear from him again. Of course, when Jezebel stumbles on Brucie beating some blindfolded ne’er-do-well into a thick, scarlet paste–rendered by Benjamin in an almost Frank Miller-esque fashion–she realizes just how right she was. Bruce Wayne is Batman. This revelation means, of course, that Ms. Jet will be dead within the year.

Just for shits and giggles, Morrison throws in a little Nightwing/Robin action, and for that I’m glad. I love the sibling vibe you get watching Dick and Tim work together (plus, they get to fight a bunch of thieves in dog masks…I shit you not). And, since it wouldn’t be a Morrison story without Damian, we get to see that little shit, too. Hey, was anyone else surprised to learn that Talia has some kind of weird spider-sense thing going on?

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Countdown to Final Crisis 1

W: Paul Dini

A: Tom Derenick

Ho-boy…

I guess now that Countdown to Final Crisis is officially over, we can look at the series as a whole and see if it worked or if it didn’t. I think it would be safe to say that some of what DC was attempting with Countdown worked. Some, not so much. Because of the size and scope of the series, there was a lot of padding to fill up 52 issues. And, since the various threads of the story were only slightly connected, there were moments when it felt disjointed (was that bit with Piper and Trickster–fun though it might have been–really necessary?). Also, what was all of that traipsing about the new Multiverse all about? Did that have anything to do with anything?

I think the major problem has to do with intent. 52 was about telling a story. Countdown was about setting up a story. Everything that happened in this series was just a means to get the characters where they needed to be for Final Crisis. I’m not saying that Countdown didn’t have its moments, in fact the last three months or so were quite good (this has a bit to do with the converging of the various plots). Unfortunately, I think it often dropped the ball on more than one occasion. What was the whole thing with Monarch all about? It looked to me to be little more than an excuse to play a big ol’ game of “What If…” (What if Donna Troy had to fight evil Donna Troy? What if Jason Todd came face to face with a good Joker?).

The final analysis: Countdown to Final Crisis had enough fun moments to make it a good read in a collected trade, but as a weekly series, it really couldn’t sustain enough thrills and/or momentum. Plus, what the hell is up with keeping Mary Marvel evil??!!??

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Justice League of America #20

W: Dwayne McDuffie

A: Ethan Van Sciver

I know what you’re saying: “What’s going on here, I thought you broke up with JLA.” Well, all I have to say to that is: “You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve, mister.”

It was a light week–only four books that I read came out–so, while standing in the comic shop, I picked up the new issue of JLA and gave it a quick flip-through. And, what did I find? Well, apparently it’s 1996 again. And I mean that in a good way.

McDuffie gives us a classic, stand-alone story about Flash and Wonder Woman teaming up to stop Queen Bee from stealing a fancy teleportation gizmo. This is it guys, it’s not rocket science. No company-wide, super-mega-final-ultimate tie-in bullshit. No unnecessary naval-gazing ( “Vixen, why are your powers different?”… “Roy, how dare you still care about the mother of your daughter when I’m standing here all sexy and winged?”). This was just a fun, balls-out old school super-hero story. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end, all wrapped up between two covers. And, more importantly, it was satisfying.

I knew McDuffie could deliver a story like this–he did it on the Justice League cartoon constantly–all he needed was to get the go-ahead from DC.

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Ultimate Fantastic Four #53

W: Mike Carey

A: Tyler Kirkham

The deus ex machina run rampant through this issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four. Ben was dead, but he really wasn’t. Reed was dead, but he really wasn’t. One was transported to another planet by Thanos’s pissed off daughter. The other simply altered his body into a form of living light. No points for guessing who did what. Then, Reed manages to get his hands on the Cosmic Cube and switch off the safety that prevents it from making people’s random thoughts a reality (don’t ask). That means that when Thanos takes the Cube and gets a giant hard-on thinking about Death, he dies. Neat, huh? Fortunately, that means that Reed can undo everything Thanos did in the last few issues, thereby saving the world. To paraphrase Mel Brooks: “It’s good to be Reed.”

There’s a little bit at the end that puts the episode of Quantum Leap when Sam saved the life of Jackie Kennedy–erasing the knowledge of her death from the memories of the viewers–to shame. Reed drops the Cosmic Cube he created into a rift in time and space. It falls through the heavens, eventually landing at the feet of past-Thanos. That’s right, kids. The Cosmic Cube that Thanos found all those ages ago was the very Cube that he forced Reed to make to replace the one he lost all of those ages ago. Trippy.

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Ultimate Spider-Man #121

W: Brian Michael Bendis

A: Stuart Immonen

I’ve come to realize that there are three kinds of Ultimate Spider-Man stories. There are the multiple-part super-villain smackdowns where Spider-Man fights a Goblin or Sandman or Doc Ock. There are the low-key, slice-of-life stories that look at Peter Parker’s civilian life. The third combines the first two, showing how Peter balances both sides of his dual life. This issue of Ultimate Spider-Man falls into the third category.

While explaining why the fake baby that he and Kitty Pryde were supposed to be taking care of is in about a ba-jillion pieces, Peter tells their teacher about the day he had. He was at the Bugle when Omega Red stops by. Omega Who? Don’t worry, I’m always surprised when he shows up in Ultimate Spider-Man. Anyways…Omega is pissed that J. Jonah Jameson ran an article about his defeat at the hands of Spider-Man. This article–and the insinuations it contained–has ruined Omega Red’s mercenary cred. Lucky for J.J., Peter happened to be in the newsroom that day, and Omega Red and Spidey meet for the second time.

There are numerous villains in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery who just couldn’t hold down an entire story on their own–Shocker, Rhino, Leap-Frog–so these kinds of issues are great places to showcase them. These stand-alone issues are also great ways to let readers catch their breaths between larger arcs. Overall, Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man never disappoints.

Weekly Comic Review for 4/16/08–Now With 75% Less Controversy

Batman and the Outsiders #6

W: Chuck Dixon

A: Carlos Rodriguez

Batman and the Outsiders, in my very humble opinion, is what JLA should be.  Now, that might sound like a giant contradiction, especially if you remember that the reason that ol’ Bats took control of the Outsiders was to use the team for jobs that were just too nasty for the JLA–jobs that need to be done, but that would sully the League’s squeaky-clean image.  I’m not saying that the JLA should be like the Outsiders, I just wish that JLA was as much fun to read as BATO.

Unlike the better known title, BATO gives us a pretty action-packed story without the naval-gazing of JLA.  The plot might not be without a few drawbacks–personally, I’m more than a bit over the whole O.M.A.C. thing–but it’s easy enough to overlook them when you get drawn into Dixon’s globe-spanning (and beyond) action story.  Of course, it could just be that I’m a sucker for any book that stars Metamorpho.  And, in case you were worried, there’s plenty of levity in this issue, too.  From Batman dosing Salah with knock-out gas so he can take him to the Batcave and let him play with the Bat-computer (does Batman still refer to it as “the Bat-computer”?) to Ollie’s self-deprecating admission that he used to have a bit of Bat-envy (Arrowplane?  Arrowcave?  C’mon, Ollie!), this book has plenty of lighter moments to break up the back-to-back action pieces.

Rodriguez’s art is also worth noting.  A perfect example is how he can draw Ollie all smirky and cocksure on one page and then, a few pages later, be just as convincing when he draws him with that righteous fire in his eyes that we’ve come to expect from DC’s biggest bleeding heart.  I’m sure that’s the kind of thing that should be expected from an artist, but it must be uncommon enough that I noticed it.  I don’t make a habit of following artists as much as I follow writers, but I’m going to make an effort to keep track of what Rodriguez does in the future.

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Captain America #37

W: Ed Brubaker

A: Steve Epting

Poor Bucky.  His life has been far from easy–getting blowed-up as a teenager, being brainwashed by the Soviet Union–but things just don’t seem to be getting an easier for the new Captain America.

He had the shield strapped on for about a minute and a half, and some ticked-off civilian calls him an impostor.  He’s outed on TV, forcing Stark to pull any SHIELD backing he might have had (including the services of the sultry Black Widow as his sidekick/handler).  Now, in this issue, he has to deal with Clint “Hawkeye” Barton showing up and causing shit.  Clint’s all cheesed-off that Bucky’s the new Cap, going so far as taking a swing at him.  I get Clint’s beef.  He might not have always agreed with Steve Rogers, but he certainly respected Bucky’s predecessor, and doesn’t think Bucky’s good enough to call himself Captain America.  Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Clint offered the mantle of Captain America and turned it down?  Someone needs to be Cap, especially with the Red Skull trying to destroy the country from the inside.

As if all of that wasn’t enough for Bucky to have to deal with, now there’s another Steve Rogers floating around.  Marvel’s done a pretty good job at trying to convince us that Steve is dead.  Dead dead.  So, it would be wrong of us to think they’re pulling a fast one here.  Besides, it wouldn’t be the first time that the Red Skull got his hands on a Rogers clone.  So, that’s what I’m going with here.  The Steve Rogers that Sharon discovers at the end of the issue is, in fact, just a clone.

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Catwoman #78

W: Will Pfeifer

A: David Lopez

Good news/bad news time, kids.  The good news is that, after this issue, it seems that Selina is finally getting back to Earth.  The bad news?  Well, she won’t have much time to enjoy it because her series is being canceled in the next few months (I believe #82 is going to be the last).  I understand that publishing is a business and, as such, you can not conceivably make everyone happy, but is Catwoman doing that poorly in sales?  And, if that’s the case, maybe DC should spend less money on insanely expansive “events” with more tie-in books than you can shake a stick at.

Anyway, I’ve only been reading Catwoman for a little while, but I’m going to miss it.  I might not have been happy with Selina getting caught up in that whole Salvation Run business, but you can’t fault the book for that.  At least Selina was able to finally get the upper claw in her ongoing feud with Cheetah, thanks in part to one of Joker’s exploding cigars.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 2

W: Paul Dini & Sean McKeever

A: Scott Kolins

I’m totally baffled by Countdown.  DC has claimed that “Final Crisis” will deal with a victorious Darkseid in control of the universe.  Okay, cool.  But…in this issue of Countdown to Final Crisis, Darkseid is pummeled to death by his son, Orion.  So, you can see where I might be confused.

Unfortunately, the confusion comes at the end of an issue that sees Darkseid and Jimmy Olsen (in giant tortoise boy form) have a smackdown in the middle of Metropolis and Darkseid and Orion going at it.  Jimmy’s also returned to the status quo when Ray Palmer finds the doo-hicky that Darkseid put in Jimmy’s head to contain the powers of the dead New Gods and destroys it.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction based on something Dan Didio said in an interview a while back.  Yes, Darkseid is dead.  All of the New Gods of the Fourth World seem to be dead.  But, all of that power is floating around out there, and it has to go somewhere.  So, I’m sure the New Gods will return when this “Fifth World” that Darkseid was all hyped about comes into being.  A new Fifth World will have new, possibly resurrected New Gods of one kind or another.  And, where there are New Gods, there will be a Darkseid.

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The Flash #239

W: Tom Peyer

A: Freddie E. Williams, II

The people of Keystone City continue to mistrust Flash after new villain, Spin, forces him to use his super-speed to rob them.  Spin ups the ante by using his captured dwarf’s mind-whammy powers on Jay Garrick, pushing the original Flash to go after Wally.  To make matters worse, Jay uses Iris and Jai to get to Wally and then initiates a showdown in the middle of Wally’s block.

The whole “people afraid of the hero” thing is nothing new.  It’s one of the Five Basic Plots of Comics.  I’m serious, check it out…I’m sure there’s a copy in your local library or shady used book store.  (Okay, okay, there’s no such book.)  Anyways, it might be a basic plot, but sometimes it works better than others and, in the case of the Flash, it works pretty damned well.  Let’s look at the facts.  Sure, everyone in Metropolis loves Superman, but he’s a global hero.  Batman couldn’t care less what the good people of Gotham think about him.  But the Flash is Keystone City.  Every Flash has been inextricably linked to his hometown, whether it’s Keystone or Central City.  So, for the people of Keystone to suddenly turn their backs on their hometown hero has real resonance.

To further illustrate how highly regarded Wally is, we have a scene with the JLA.  Realizing how they dropped the ball the last time they stuck their noses in Wally’s life, DC’s big guns decide to sit this one out until Wally actually asks them for help.  However, Red Arrow isn’t about to let one of his oldest friends twist in the wind.  Hopefully Roy will be enough back-up when Wally has to face Gorilla Grodd next month.

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Gotham Underground #7 (of 9)

W: Frank Tieri

A: J. Calafiore

The cliffhanger from last issue involving the reappearance of Leslie Thompkins remains more or less hangery as Dick wakes up in an underground medical clinic with Riddler standing over him.  Tieri gives us just enough to make us think that Dick simply hallucinated seeing Leslie at the end of last issue (although some info in this week’s issue of Robin makes me think that Leslie really was there).  Riddler tells Dick to drop the whole fake name business, because Riddler’s too smart not to realize that he’s really talking to Nightwing.  Unfortunately, Riddler’s not smart enough to talk his way out of a little payback at the hands of Penguin.

Elsewhere, the war for Gotham’s underworld reaches a new plateau.  Penguin’s Rent-a-Rogue forces successfully wipe out Tobias Whale’s goons, leading to a partnership between Penguin and Whale against their mutual foe: Intergang.  While the two aquatically-themed crime bosses reach an agreement, Penguin’s forces are getting picked off by this Vigilante sumbitch.  Luckily, Bats has gotten himself out of Blackgate and is ready to rumble with this fool.  Now, is this new Vigilante connected to Intergang or is he (or she??) also tied to the return of Leslie and Steph Brown?

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Robin #173

W: Chuck Dixon

A: Chris Batista

Not unlike Bucky, Tim’s life has been pretty rough lately.  He’s been trying to chase down Violet–a morally ambiguous chick who’s taken it upon herself to rob from the scum to give to the poor.  He’s also managed to get himself saddled with two less than legit G.C.P.D. detectives who seem to think that Robin’s help will be their ticket to the big time.  And, all the while, someone in a Spoiler costume has been keeping tabs on our boy.

Robin’s investigation leads him to a counterfeit ring run by the Korean Mafia.  Now, this is a kid who’s been trained by Batman.  He can handle himself in a situation like this.  But, he also has to deal with Violet.  And Spoiler.  That’s right sports fans, after months of keeping her distance, Spoiler makes herself known to Tim.  She’s there to help, but Robin goes ape-shit and gives the girl with the nerve to wear his dead girlfriend’s costume the business.  It’s an understandable reaction.  But, suspecting what we’ve been led to suspect–that this really is Steph–you just can’t help but wish Tim would settle down for a minute and let this Spoiler explain.  I mean, Tim…c’mon, she used your real name!  In my book, that probably means something.

This could all be a big switcheroo.  We don’t know for sure that this is Stephanie Brown, as much as I really hope it is.  Is she the same mystery girl that Penguin gave the costume to a few months back in the pages of Gotham Underground?  It would certainly make sense that Steph would want a little bit of revenge on Gotham’s underworld after what happened with Black Mask.  Would she think that’s reason enough to strike some kind of deal with Cobblepot?

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Quote of the Week:

“Superman?  You should be so lucky.”–Green Arrow, after being blasted with a fire hose by a Chinese soldier and asked if he was going to be rescued by Big Blue and the JLA, in Batman and the Outsiders #6 (the implication is clear, right?).

Weekly Comic Review for 4/2/08

Abe Sapien: The Drowning #3 (of 5)

W: Mike Mignola

A: Jason Shawn Alexander

As happens with nearly every book in the Hellboy universe, there comes a moment when a whole bunch of stuff happens and you find yourself not exactly sure what’s going on.  This has nothing to do with the talent of the writers or artists involved with the project.  It just seems to be a narrative decision made somewhere back in the murky, swirling miasma of time.  And, everything gets cleared up eventually.  (I say eventually, because it might not be in that mini-series…you might have to wait until the next mini to get a concrete answer.)

Abe Sapien: The Drowning #3 is the issue where I found myself (if you’ll pardon the sea metaphor) adrift.  Partly, I think, it has to do with the lack of dialogue.  Many of Mignola’s characters are rather laconic, so there’s always the possibility that you’ll run into an issue where someone is so focused on the job at hand that they just don’t have time to blather.  (Interesting factoid: that is one of the reasons that DC pushed for the creation of Robin.  To give Batman someone to talk to.)  The centerpiece of this issue is Abe’s street battle with a giant eel monster, however the main mystery of the book remains the corpse of Dutch warlock Epke Vrooman, and how his creepy little gobliny goons are going to remove the Tibetan dagger from his heart.

While Mignola continues to craft a delightfully complex pulp-style story, Alexander backs him up with more-than-capable art.  And, if you think it’s easy to draw facial features on a fish-man, you need to get out of the house more.

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Angel: After the Fall #6

W: Joss Whedon & Brian Lynch

A: Tim Kane, David Messina, Stephen Mooney & John Byrne

Anyone who wants to find out what happens to the un-demony Fred who showed up on the last page of issue #5 had better settle down and grab a helmet.  In true Whedon fashion, the fans are made to suffer.

Starting with this issue, Lynch is delving into what happened the night that L.A. was sucked into hell.  Judging from the layout of this issue, it looks like Lynch will be using vignettes to show us what each of the main characters was up to immediately “after the fall.”  Issue #6 focuses on Connor, Spike and Lorne.  It’s funny, that spell that Wolfram and Hart used at the end of season four must have really worked, because I constantly forget all about Connor until he shows up again.

Of the three, Spike’s story is, in my opinion, the best.  The writing is good.  Messina’s art is beautiful.  And, it really captures where Spike is at the moment.  He’s survived two apocalypses and he’s pretty sure he’s earned some kind of reward by now.  But, until his reward arrives, he’s just as happy to beat the crap out of stuff.  Lynch even gives us a classic moment that could have come right out of an episode of Angel (actually, I think it might have): standing on a rooftop, surveying the city, Spike spots trouble on the street below.  Ready to jump into action, he turns, coat twirling.  We cut to the next panel, and Spike’s riding the elevator down while “The Girl from Ipanema” plays, lamenting that he should have just jumped off the roof.

Although not as good as the Spike story, Lorne’s story is befitting the character.  Told in Seussical verse and peppered with Lorne-isms, Lynch and Byrne tell us how Lorne went from killing Lindsey to being crowned lord of Silverlake.

Connor’s story has it’s moments, particularly when his memory starts coming back–did Wolfram and Hart do this on purpose or is it just something that happens in hell?–and he realizes that he banged his surrogate mother.  But, a lot of it is one long philosophical examination of the differences between Connor’s three fathers: Angel, Holtz, and Laurence Reilly.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer #13

W: Drew Goddard

A: Georges Jeanty

It’s funny.  Last month, the news was all a-buzz with the uproar surrounding Buffy’s night of intimacy with a girl.  However, this month there wasn’t a single story about the adorably awkward homosexual tension between Xander and his former “Master,” Dracula.  Why is that?  Was it just too goofy to be spun into anything other than a fictional story told with pretty pictures?  That must be it.  Anyone who tried to use this issue of Buffy in their agenda of swirling infernal asinine rage would have been laughed out of the Bund meeting, or whatever.

Personally, I was never a fan of the Dracula episode of Buffy.  I thought that throwing in that foppish, over-romanticized Euro-trash kind of vampire undermined everything the show had done to make vampires back into the scummy, scavenging bottom-feeders they’re supposed to be.  Yes, there were some good moments.  Xander becoming Drac’s thrall and later proclaiming that he no longer wants to eat insects, get the “funny syphilis,” or be everyone’s butt-monkey.  But, as a whole, I’ve always thought it was one of the show’s weaker episodes.

However, all of that aside, this was one of the funniest issues of any comic I’ve ever read.  The scenes between Xander and Dracula were one great line after another.  Dracula repeatedly referring to Renee as Xander’s Moor and cursing the “filthy yellow swine” who stole his powers leads Xander to note that he didn’t remember Dracula being so racist.  And, what would an issue with heavy homosexual undertones be without an extended cameo by Andrew?

The rest of the issue revolves around Buffy and the Slayers tracking down the trio of Japanese vampires who stole the Slayer’s Scythe.  The bad news: these vamps have found a way to reverse the spell that Willow performed on the scythe, essentially deactivating all of the new Slayers.  Now, the question remains: are these three working with Twilight or on their own?

The only problem I had with this issue of Buffy was that I thought Willow drilling Satsu for information on how Buffy was in bed was a little too crass for our dear, sweet redheaded Wicca.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 4

W: Paul Dini & Sean McKeever

A: Jamal Igle

Hey, remember how happy I was when Mary Marvel kicked Eclipso to the curb and became good again?  Well, you can forget all of that.  The Challengers are back on their Earth for about a minute and a half and Mary goes home to find Darkseid chilling on her couch watching Judge Judy.  Darkseid convinces Mary to take her Black Mary powers back and work for him.  Super.  I understand that the set-up for DC’s upcoming Final Crisis event requires the Big D to be victorious and that would probably involve him actually getting his hands on the souls within Jimmy Olsen, but does it also have to involve Mary being evil again?

The bad news: it’s obvious that DC had absolutely no idea what they were doing with this series.

The good news: it’s almost over.

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Detective Comics #843

W: Paul Dini

A: Dustin Nguyen

I really love the work that Dini is doing on Detective Comics–which is odd since his Countdown gets worse every week.  Yes, I’m pretty sure a lot of it comes from the fact that my first full-time exposure to Batman came in the form of Dini’s Batman: The Animated Series.  But, let’s not ignore the fact that Dini’s usually a pretty solid storyteller.  One of the best decisions DC ever made was in allowing Dini to write shorter, one- or two-part stories with great villains like Scarecrow, Mad Hatter and (in this case) Scarface.  I also find it hard to fault Dini’s preoccupation with Zatanna, who makes yet another appearance in his Detective run.

Hey, I don’t fault Dini for wanting to put Zee in as many issues as possible.  She’s a leggy brunette with magic powers and an amazing fashion sense.  Plus, when she’s with Bruce, the sparks are obvious.  They have a long history together, Zee’s life in the spotlight balances Bruce’s life in the shadows, and there’s the trust factor.  Bruce has serious trust issues.  Zee monkeyed with Bruce’s mind and he’s forgiven her.  He still hasn’t forgiven Booster Gold for borrowing a batarang and not returning it, but he’s forgiven Zee for invading his noodle.

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Rogue Angel: Teller of Tall Tales #2

W: Barbara Randall Kesel

A: Renae De Liz

This issue of Teller of Tall Tales puts the narrative on hold to explain the back-story of Annja Creed.  I understand that the concept of a modern-day, skeptical archaeologist who also has a magical sword can be a bit to get a handle on.  Unfortunately, as someone who is familiar with the Rogue Angel novel series, this issue pretty much told me a story that I’ve already read.  Actually, I mean that quite literally, since the bulk of issue #2 retells the plot of Rogue Angel: Destiny.

And, while De Liz really captured how Annja is described in the books, the designs for other series regulars–like Roux, Braden, and Doug–don’t feel right.

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Quote of the Week:

“Oh balls.”–Dracula, upon remembering that he lost his powers to a trio of Japanese vampires while gambling on a motorcycle, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer #13.

Weekly Comic Review for 3/26/08

Countdown to Final Crisis 5

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W: Paul Dini & Adam Beechen

A: Jim Starlin

Oh, Countdown…you really have no idea what you’re doing, do you? Sure, you seem like you do–you have since the start–but, with each weekly issue, it becomes clearer that there was never a clear plan for this series. Maybe this is punishment for when I walked away from the far-superior 52 after the first six issues (I had money troubles at the time, or else I wouldn’t have). Or, maybe this is another way for the gods to force me to question my unerring loyalty (a lot of what keeps me coming back is faith in Paul Dini). Fortunately, my realization that Countdown has been a pointless, meandering narrative comes with four issues remaining.

What went wrong? Maybe it’s my own mistake, but I got the impression that the Multiverse would be a much larger part of Countdown. It would almost make sense: 52 was about its return and Countdown would explore it. Which, to be fair, it did. A bit. But the build-up of tension between Monarch, the Monitors, and the Challengers just sort of fizzled, didn’t it? The whole “Search for Ray Palmer” thing was successful. But, it was also kind of anti-climactic. Then we got the last few issues, which basically told the story of how the post-apocalyptic Earth of Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth came to be (hint: it has to do with that super-virus in Karate Kid). Now that’s over, and the series moves on to yet another story before everything wraps up.

A lot of people were giving DC a hard time about this series. I stood up for it. I didn’t think it was just a huge marketing ploy, an attempt to cash in on the success (and brilliance) of 52. But, now I’m starting to think that I was wrong. And I hate being wrong.

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Daredevil #106

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W: Ed Brubaker

A: Paul Azaceta

I’ve never been a huge fan of Michael Lark’s art in Daredevil. It was nice to look at, sure; but, sometimes it didn’t flow that well for me. That made the whole “visual narrative medium” thing a tad bit tricky. But, the work that Paul Azaceta (B.P.R.D.: 1946) did in issue #106 is incredible. Azaceta is quickly climbing towards the top of my list of favorite artists. His work on B.P.R.D. is amazing. The art he provided for this issue of Daredevil is twenty times better. It’s too bad that Azaceta is just a one-issue fill-in artist. I’d love to see him work on Daredevil full-time.

Now, as for the story itself, even though Brubaker does another smash-up job, I feel like he’s just walking down the same street that Daredevil has been down so many times before. So guilt-ridden that he’s let someone he loves down (in this case, it’s his wife Milla, who’s in an asylum after a run-in with Mister Fear), Matt goes off the rails. Hiding behind the red mask of Daredevil, Matt takes his frustrations out on the criminal element of Hell’s Kitchen. Seeing what’s happening, Matt’s friends (Foggie, Ben, Dakota) try to throw together an intervention–which, of course, has absolutely no effect. What saves this over-used plot is Brubaker’s writing, but it’s still something that we’ve all seen way too many times before.

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Green Lantern #29

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W: Geoff Johns

A: Ivan Reis

Under normal circumstances, I don’t like when comics take time out of their normal monthly circulation to retell a character’s origin. I dislike it even more when it’s a well-known character. We do not need whole issues devoted to retelling the origins of Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man. We get it, okay? That being said, this month’s Green Lantern–which promises to provide a “Secret Origin”–isn’t that bad.

Rather than wasting our time with telling us (for about the millionth time) how Hal gets his power ring, Johns starts from the beginning. He shows us Hal’s childhood and his father’s death. We see the dynamics at play between Hal’s widowed mother and her three sons. Johns focuses on Hal’s disregard for his mother’s fears when he joined the Air Force on his 18th birthday. We see how the three brothers were torn apart by Hal’s decision and the death of their mother some years later. And, because Geoff Johns loves us, he gives us a little scene where Hal’s fly-boy buddies get into a bar fight with a group of Marines, including John Stewart.

The last page provides (what I assume to be) a new tidbit of information. Abin Sur, the Lantern who will pass his ring on to Hal, is investigating the prophecy of “The Blackest Night”–the promised sequel to the Sinestro Corps. War storyline. If I’m not wrong, Johns is saying that his investigations into the prophecy are what led to Sur’s death. That, from where I sit, is new.

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Ultimate Fantastic Four #52

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W: Mike Carey

A: Tyler Kirkham

I think there’s a problem when an issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four features more action involving the Ultimates than the Fantastic Four. Okay, maybe it was fun to watch Thanos and Thor trade barbs during battle–it seems that these two have met before in the distant past–but that was it. With Johnny and Sue gone all emo while under Thanos’s control and Reed supposedly turned to stone, you’d think that we would at least get a little Grimm action. Unfortunately, Ben is off with Thanos’s creepy daughter, a set-up that has a few moments, but not many.

Overall, Ultimate Fantastic Four is starting to drop the ball more often than not.

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Ultimate Human #3 (of 4)

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W: Warren Ellis

A: Cary Nord

And, this week’s award for the most misleading cover goes to…I hate these envelopes…they never open like they’re supposed…Ultimate Human #3! Sure, cover artists take a lot of liberties, and I’m okay with that. But, not only don’t Hulk and Iron Man slug it out in this issue, they aren’t even in the issue. Tony and Bruce show up on the last two pages, but no Hulk…no Iron Man.

What do we get? We get a slow, unnecessary narrative about Peter Wisdom (a.k.a. Ultimate Peter Wisdom, a.k.a. Ultimate Leader). Remember all that stuff we’d learned about Wisdom in the last two issues–about how he was a spook with British Intelligence; how he had his own ideas for creating enhanced humans for the UK; how his swollen noodle was a result of being forced to test his theories on himself–well, I hope you liked it, because this issue tells us about them all over again. Normally, I like stories about MI: 6. I’ve read Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country, and can usually tell my D-Ops from my D-Int. Unfortunately, Ellis is no Rucka. And Ultimate Human is no Queen and Country.

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Ultimate Spider-Man #120

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W: Brian Michael Bendis

A: Stuart Immonen

In a week that saw the release of four Ultimate titles from Marvel (seriously, guys, well-frakkin-done!), it should come as no surprise that Ultimate Spider-Man blows them all away. After writing 120 issues, Bendis is showing no signs of slowing down. He understands the web-head as much as anyone (maybe even more than Stan Lee, himself). Combine that with Immonen’s clean and simple art, and you’ve got a winner (I still prefer Mark Bagley’s art, but Immonen was a good replacement).

With is friend Liz recently discovering her mutant powers, Peter Parker finds himself forced to not only deal with her understandable freak-out, but also the sudden arrival of Magneto. Of course, with Magneto popping up, it was only a matter of time before the X-Men stop by. Bendis’s X-Men team is the team that should always be in Ultimate X-Men–Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus, Iceman, and Wolverine (okay, I’d add Beast and Kitty Pryde, too)–and Immonen’s take on them is amazing. I especially dig how he draws Wolverine and Nightcrawler.

After Bendis throws a few curveballs at us–Liz’s uncle Frank (the mutant) isn’t actually her uncle, he’s her father (and, also, The Blob!)–Peter reveals his secret identity to Liz, showing that she’s not alone in this, she has friends and some of them really understand what she’s going through. Liz decides to head off to Xavier’s school to learn how to control her powers (because in Ultimate Spider-Man, the X-Men are still awesome).

Again, Bendis takes something from Spidey’s past that’s not that cool (Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends) and turns it into an entertaining story.

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Ultimate X-Men #92

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W: Robert Kirkman

A: Salvador Larroca

Time travel. Apocalypse. Xavier’s “not dead.” Multi-character slugfests.

Yeah, it’s a lame as it sounds. As awesome as Bendis and Immonen made the X-Men in Ultimate Spider-Man, it all becomes moot in their own title. Kirkman’s “90s Love” has gone far enough. Apocalypse can be cool (I give you X-Men: Evolution), but too often writers–even good ones–don’t really know how to deal with him. Kirkman’s Apocalypse had potential. The key word here is “had.” What killed this potential? Well, that whole “I didn’t kill Xavier, I simply took him to the future” bullshit didn’t help. Neither did having Xavier return to the present wearing Onslaught-y armor. Hello 90s!

I find it ironic that the issue ends with the return of Phoenix. Phoenix–the engine behind one of the best storylines in X-Men history–appears to face an opponent who is synonymous with some of the worst X-Men storylines.

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Quote of the Week:

“Now you sound like a tool.”–Liz Allan to Peter Parker, after he gives her the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech, in Ultimate Spider-Man #120.