December 3, 2012


Let's see what was worth the time I invested in it over these past few weeks...

Astonishing X-Men: Monstrous - I enjoyed the Whedon run for the first four collections of Astonishing, and I'd rank them among the best comics runs that Marvel has put out in a long, long while. Since Wheon left, however, the issues have been a fair bit more hit and miss - Exogenetic and Ghost Box being more miss than hit. Monstrous isn't exactly a full return to form, but it's at least a bit of fun. Armor - one of the best new character creations of the Whedon run - opens by pushing her powers to the limit, increasing the reach and size of her armor and turning it into an offensive rather than defensive force. When Armor is called back to Japan for a family funeral, the rest of the team mounts up and travels with her - an admittedly cliche move for a superteam. There a monster - from Monster Island, natch - forces Armor and the rest of the X-team to come together - as a family.

It's certainly not new ground being tread here, but it's a decent enough read.

Batman: Court of Owls - I wasn't exactly looking forward to the Court of Owls storyline as I've been a bit put off of Batman comics thanks to the horrifically messy storytelling of the Morrison era. Ever issue of Morrison's work has driven me absolutely nuts, and I was thrilled to find that this one was a Scott Snyder production instead.

This storyline comes directly out of Gates of Gotham, another in a long line of needless explorations of the history of Gotham as den of iniquity, cesspool, birthplace of murderers, and hopeful resurrection project of the Wayne family - and a few other wealthy families of the city.

Here we find a Bruce Wayne - in the new 52 - in the middle of an apparently deathless assassin's rash of murders, killing Gotham players of power who have dared to rise above the fray and try to help the city - including Wayne, himself. As we learn that Wayne spent his youth investigating the existence of an alleged Court of Owls who controlled Gotham from far behind the scenes only to find no reality to the most secret of organizations...until now. The Court eventually finds Batman guilty and traps him in a giant underground torture maze...because that's plausible, of course.

The massive conspiracy actually works here with Wayne and his newly buff Alfred relating numerous nursery rhymes of city-known legends of the Court. As with the X-Men, this is ground tread before - Batman nearly goes mad, saves himself at the last moment because of the secret steps that he's been taking but just not revealing to us, the villainry seems defeated but chooses instead to unleash hell on the city just as the volume comes to a close, but it's entertainingly tread this time.

I'll be back for the second volume.

Summerland - This was my second time through Michael Chabon's for-kids debut tale of baseball, multiple worlds, faeries, bigfoots, and lots more mythical, just sort of recognizable characters and creatures. The first time, though, was as an audio book. This time I actually took to the printed page.

We open on Clam Island in the Pacific Northwest, a tiny island where baseball is the game of the summer and which is only a thin jump across the World Tree to a mythical realm known as the Summerlands and inhabited by baseball-playing Ferrishers (only slightly modified faeries) . It seems that Coyote - the archetypal trickster - is trying to wither the World Tree and return the order that is the world - all four of its realms - into the disorder that is nothingness so that he can remake the world in his image.

The only thing standing in his way is Ethan Feld, Clam Island newcommer and horrible baseball player. If he is to save the worlds, however, he is going to have to learn to trust himself, control his pitcher, take a pitche, and love his father. Chabon crafts a wonderful and magical world out of lots of traditional mystical beasties - many of whom are just on the edges of the recognizable. Instead of the Tall Tales of American legend (Paul Bunyon, Pecos Bill, John Henry - none of whom are ever called by name) we get the Big Liars, a team of baseball playing brilliance who Feld's squad beats by the slimmest of margins.

The tale alternately meanders and rushes by, echoing the pacing of a baseball game where one half inning may take nearly an hour and the next three innings roar past in the seeming blink of an eye. Along the way, the Feld gang picks up more and more team members and grows closer together with each step along the journey. And in the end there isn't any surprise in the conclusion as the hero does step up the save the day - just as all the signs have been saying would happen. The climax - and particularly the eventual post-climactic wrap-up - are wonderful and emotional after a long, wandering path to get there.

Chabon - as always - has created a richly filled world populated by characters who are just flawed enough to keep our interest. High quality stuff

Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls - This, on the other hand, is an awful piece of crap and must be entirely forgotten as a part of the Indiana Jones trilogy...yes, trilogy...

From the infamous refrigerator scene to the climax with the thirteen crystal skeletons coming together to nearly destroy the legacy of Harrison Ford's Dr Jones.

Horrible...horrible...horrible...I'm at least glad I didn't pay to see this dreck.

Justice League: Origin - As a child of the 80s and 90s, someone who came into adulthood reading the comic books of the grim and gritty post-Dark Knight era, I worshiped at the alter of Jim Lee.

I read Hush and his Superman-Batman series and loved his the past tense. Now I have come to find his drawings cluttered with needless lines and overly drawn figures. And, yay! The full New 52 is based on his designs. Blech...I look forward to a change to a clean art style somewhere along the way.

I'm okay with the whole retelling of the JL origins with the characters meeting each other for the first time and even with the mistaken fight that stereotypically ensues, but graphic novels are equally about the visuals as they are about the story. Here the story is a six or seven - okay but not spectacular - but the artwork is a three or four. If you like Jim Lee, enjoy this one. If you don't - as I don't, steer clear.

The Cabin in the Woods - Joss Whedon can do no wrong.

Here he turns his attention to the horror genre and writes the heck out of a horror flick..or at least something that sets up as a pretty standard horror flick. The set up is very standard with five college students taking a weekend vacation to the titular cabin in the woods, owned by one of the student's uncles. Once at the cabin, of course, the five awaken an undead family of cannibalistic zombies who hunt down the five archetypes in a standard progression - the whore, the athlete, the scholar, the fool, the virgin. The denouement, however, is far from standard and makes for a really interesting - if not quite as terrifying film.

Spoilers coming...

Whedon, however, doesn't leave the story as standard, instead showing us that beneath the cabin, there is planning afoot. Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, and Amy Acker are bureaucrats hard at work ensuring that the destruction at the cabin plays out according to long-planned rules and requirements for 'their' viewing pleasure. It isn't until far through the movie, though, that 'they' are revealed to be the eldritch gods kept at bay through the ritual and annual sacrifice of these five archetypes - as well as similar sacrifices made in Tokyo and Stockholm.

As the plans for the five here seemingly come to successful fruition - saving the planet and the entire human race, the underdwellers celebrate - only to be stopped when someone notices that the Fool didn't play his part and die. Instead, he brings the virgin into the underworld, throwing a through wrench into the plans. Their time in the underworld is actually far more interesting than their time above as we get to see the lengths to which the bureaucrats have to go to ensure our safety every year. As the thousands of kept horrors are released in the complex, I found myself wondering just for whom I should be rooting - the obvious choices were the manipulated and doomed college students, but if they succeed, our world ends.

Whedon has made a fabulous film - even though he didn't direct it.

Superman vs the Elite (DVD) - I've mentioned my love of Action Comics #775 before, and I'll stand by my statement that it's one of the best single-issue comics written in the past decade (slightly more than a decade now since it came out in 2001). This animated adaptation is successfully brings that issue to life, fleshing out the story a little to make a full, feature-length. The introduction of the Elite comes out a little differently, and the addition of Vera - a character who is barely mentioned in the single issue comic but was fleshed out later in the Elite series - makes for a handy deux ex machina allowing Lois to find out more about the Elite's background a little too easily. I also wasn't thrilled with the huge use of the Superman robots in the final scene, but all in all, this is a successful adaptation.

Nice job, DC.

Batman: Year One (DVD) - The Year One storyline may be Frank Miller's finest work, utterly redefining the first year of Batman's career and telling a tale that has been told to death with a wonderfully refreshing, reserved, and deft touch, something that most of the other Frank Miller high points (300, Dark Knight Returns, Sin City all of which are thoroughly without restraint). Miller's Batman is a rookie, struggling to find his way in a hard world where he leaves himself absolutely no margin for error. The artwork by David Mazzucchelli is gorgeous and subdued, a world in muted tones.

In this adaptation, the DC animators have stuck with the visual style and wonderful storyline of the comics, telling tales centered on the new-to-Gotham Jim Gordon and revealing the Batman largely through Gordon's eyes. We see that Gotham is a cesspool of corruption, greed, and organized crime, something that has come to be cannon but that Miller largely brought into the Batman world.

The voice work from Brian Cranston as Jim Gordon is absoutely top notch as he carries the film with his conflicted but deeply human commissioner-to-be.

Great animation, especially for those of us who already know the classic basis.

The Catwoman short feature on the disc, though, is horrible and only for those of you who want to stare at exaggeratedly busty and hippy heroines. Bad addition to a great disc...

Powers - I didn't realize that I was a volume behind on the the Powers reading. Turns out this volume came out in October and continued the storyline that was briefly revealed at the end of the last collection. A god has died, and it's up to Walker and his partner - under the watchful eye of newly-federal Deena Pilgrim - to find out who did it.

This exploration of the fine line between powers and gods - or powers who claim/believe to be gods wasn't as interesting to me as were some of the other arcs, and the destruction thrown at the East Coast in the arc's conclusion left me wondering just how awful a world this would be to live in - one in which much of Utah, the Gaza Strip, all of Iraq, the Vatican have all been destroyed in earlier issues - and how only 6000 people could die when a hundred-foot-tall wave strikes the East Coast.

Again, by the end of this issue, Walker and some of the other characters - including Calista - are MIA. There are also seeds for possible later problems - particularly Calista's hitch-hiking alien beastie - sown in this issue.

I'll be back for more, but I'm enjoying re-reading all the previous issues more than I did reading this one for the first time.

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