November 28, 2008

The words on the pages between the covers

Here's the deal, yo...

World War Hulk: Damage Control - It's a clear lock for me. World War Hulk is my favorite cross-over from either of the major publishers. It's way more fun and cohesive than anything else that either DC or Marvel has published. It puts Civil War, Infinite Crisis, Countdown, DC One Million, One Year Later, and every other cross over they've tried to absolute shame.

The main series is nothing but an awesome throw down, and the ancillary storylines are thoroughly entertaining. In this one, we get a bit of a look at the aftermath (Aftersmash by the title of some of the issues) of the Hulk's destruction of New York. We get to see how some of the secondary characters - Hercules, Goliath's brother, and others - deal with the changes and losses in their lives. In the other storyline, we're allowed to see the on-the-ground reconstruction from the Damage Control administration, a kind of comic Haliburten. We're introduced to a half dozen non-heroes who are just trying to get the city back on its feet and are willing to spend a few hundred billion to get it done.

There's nothing her that's necessary to get the whole World War Hulk storyline, but there are some entertaining, single-issue tales that are worth reading if just for the fun of them. The artwork's nicely done as is the characterization.

It's a fine if fluffy addition to the main tale.

World War Hulk: Gamma Corps - another in the tie-ins to World War Hulk, the Gamma Corps brings together a number of Hulk-related heroes to try to defeat the Hulk, at least they're supposed to be heroes.

The use of Hulk as both hero and anti-hero has been a revelation throughout the WWH event. Hulk has clearly been wronged by the "heroes" of Earth - Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Black Bolt, Prof X, Dr Strange, and Namor - but his mission to destroy and humiliate them ensures that his mission won't be one that is easily sympathized with.

Here we find five new characters - each introduced to us through extensive flashbacks - brought together by a shadowy government agency at the behest of a general who has a long-standing beef with the Hulk. Their one mission is the repay the pain that they view the Hulk to have brought to their lives onto the big green guy, himself. Their mission is simply to kill the Hulk and bring his body back to create more "heroes" like them.

They aren't, of course, successful - if they were, they'd be in the main storyline, not a spin-off - but the single-battle attempt is entertaining enough.

I can't imagine any of these characters being reused in subsequent series without the Hulk being the main focus as their origins and motivations are so closely and clearly tired to the Hulk that they would seem almost stupid outside the Hulk's tales. But they work here, and the story's a bit of fun.

The artwork's not bad, either, though there are a few issues with coloration as one of the "heroes" is simply a grey clone (give or take) of the Hulk, and the colors often confuse the two, often showing the Hulk in his old-school grey form by mistake.

Feel free to skip this one unless you're working on the entirety of the WWF event, but if you do grab it, it won't be a waste of your time.

Preacher - Ancient History & Dixie Fried - Preacher is a very odd series. There aren't a lot of comic books that would merit an essay in The Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies nor are there many series that would put out an entire collection of issues that don't have single appearance of the main character. The titular preacher is nowhere to be found in any of the issues of Ancient History where we are given, instead, the backstory of two of the second-tier but important characters of the series: Saint of Killers and Arseface.

We'd gotten a glimpse of the backstory of the Saint of Killers a while back but here we get three full issues of his tale, from his lone shot at love to his revenge on and subsequent death at the hands of the men who had delayed him from returning to save that love and then to his subsequent actions in hell and beyond. It's an interesting story if one that is told with a rather broad brush, something that I am beginning to notice is a pattern with Ennis's storytelling. The details are typically left out of his stories in favor of very simple, almost two-dimensional motivations and actions.

The backstory of the Cassidy-named-Arseface is next and takes just a single issue and sets him on the trail of Jesse Custer, hunting the man down with the full intent to kill him. It's a palatable story but mostly here to push Arseface on the trail of the Preacher.

The third tale is the least enjoyable as it focuses on two of the hick morons from Jesse's backstory. The less said about this tale the better. It's a weird pastiche of horrible stereotypes, bad movie cliches, and Deliverence gags. It's almost enough to turn me off from the whole series.

At least Dixie Fried starts off a whole lot better, with a flashback of Cassidy's time in New Orleans, complete with a foppish vampire along the lines of Lestat of the craptacular Anne Rice tales. Cassidy proceeds to educate then eventually destroy the fop before we come back - after too long a digression - to the main storyline...which, of course, takes us back to N'Orleans where Cassidy's actions turn out to have repercussions.

The tale's getting a bit long, and I hope there's a bit of movement toward the goal soon, because my attention's starting to drift. The Cassidy betrayal storyline, however, has me intrigued.

Planetary - Warren Ellis' semi-regular series has been ongoing for nearly a decade now though it was on hiatus for a fair part of that time. I got into the trio of collections after picking up Crossing Worlds a while back. That collection, by the way, was an awful introduction to the Planetary world because it was written entirely for people already familiar with the series itself. I was, however, intrigued enough to go hunting the rest of the series.

Planetary is a fascinating concept, hodgepodging together much of modern comic and sci-fi into a cohesive and thoroughly independent world, something akin to Astro City's world in which heroes have been around for a long while, and there's clearly something going on below the surface that is revealed in slow bits and blobs through the series.

We enter as a new member is being recruited to the team of three - the titular organization. The others have been together for a while, and we're not privy to the things that they know until the new man - Elijah Snow - becomes privy to them. It's an interesting conceit and an absolutely fascinating whole.

Sadly, however, the three volumes collect only up through issue #18, which leaves the final nine issues uncollected anywhere. Which is killing me.

I need some closure, people.

Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Legends - I'm amazed at how utterly readable Neyer's work can be in small doses, a column at a time on ESPN's website and how utterly unreadable I find all of his books so far. They read like the columns, most of the book utterly independent of the rest of it, each little blurb fully digestible in a single sitting.

But they're boring.

Taken as wholes, they are less than the sum of their parts.

In this one, Neyer presents his research into the veracity of a number of what he calls baseball legends. The most notable of them is the famous called shot of Babe Ruth, but most of them are minor footnotes in history, things that most people - me included - would never have heard or even thought to consider as a source of anything more than the smallest, fleeting interest.

Skip this one entirely.

The World Without Us - Continuing my promise to read actual adult books from time to time, I checked into Alan Weisman's exploration of just what our planet would look like if every human on the planet were to instantly disappear.

Weisman has done an impressive job of exploring a number of aspects of the planet and how each would be affected by our disappearance. He examines the concentration of oil refineries in Texas, megafauna in Africa and the Americas, our changes to soil, nuclear energy and weapons, our largest cities, deforested regions, the oceans, and many more. In each case, he examines how the planet would undo the changes that we have wrought as well as what of our changes would be the most lasting.

Bits and pieces of these are fascinating - the examination of how New York City would fall and the underground cities of Turkey being the two most interesting to me. Others, however, left me entirely bored and forcing myself through the chapters - primarily those dealing with the large animals of Africa.

The book reads almost as a collected series of magazine articles in which the author has chosen to look at one aspect of our world each month. There is little if any connection among the chapters, and the book never held together for me.

Moderately interesting, however...

W. - Oliver Stone's third presidential movie - after JFK and Nixon - offers us a glimpse into the forces and events that helped shape our outgoing Commander in Chief. In the process, he makes the titular Dubya into a much more complex, sympathetic character than how he is generally portrayed in the media while making his entire supporting cast less complex.

The various supporters - both personal and political - are played gamely by a host of talented actors, and Josh Brolin's lead is impressive. The entire movie, however, comes of as boring and utterly unnecessary if not even misleading. The Austin Chronicle summary over on Metacritic says it well...
In our age of 24-hour news coverage, this rehashing of current events doesn't just come off familiar but completely unnecessary. And, worst of all, prosaic.
It's a bunch of stories that we've all heard before - at least the parts within the administration's time - with nary a revealing insight. The parts prior to the current administration, then, play like the most bland, stereotyped attempt for a man to get out of his father's giant shadow.

The movie bored me throughout, and I found its willingness to combine events - Bush speaks the "fool me once" line not in a press conference as he truly did but rather in a private White House meeting, something Stone seemed willing to do throughout the film - likely to confuse those who actually do remember the events shown in the film.

Stone's film is weak, lacks the judgment of historical hindsight and distance, and doesn't reveal anything whatsoever other than his own biases. Clearly, Collin Powell was a good man and a lone voice among the administrative team. Dick Cheney was weasely and evil. Condalisa Rice was shrill and annoying. These must be the true versions, because they are all that Stone offers us.

This one should be thrown on the trash heap, never to be shown again.

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