February 14, 2014

Return of Revenge of Reviews...the comics

Superior Spider-Man (vol 1-3) - I am reminded of something that I read from, I think, Comics Alliance at one point: we want good stories.

Comics fans may whine and complain when changes come to our heroes, but in the long run, all that matters is whether the stories are good or not. The writers killed off Peter Parker and replaced his brain with Otto Octavious, changing our Amazing Spider-Man into Otto's Superior Spider-Man, and the internet was in full uproar mode. "How could they?"..."What were they thinking?"..."Killed Peter Parker?" In the long run, though, all that matters is that the stories are good, and these are good stories.

The set-up is that Octavious traded minds with Peter Parker, trapping Parker's mind inside Doc Oc's sickly, dying body where Parker definitely, finally died. Some part of Parker's personality, however, survived inside his body, leaving Parker's sense of duty and responsibility ('with great power...' donchaknow) to influence Octavious to do good deeds. Combined with Octavious's ego and narcissism, this duty leaves Octavious to become a better Spider-Man than Parker ever could have been, and it turns out he's outstanding at it. Octavious sets Mary Jane free, returns to Empire State so his Parker will have a PhD, begins dating his physics tutor, sets up city-wide surveillance, blackmails JJJ to get a heroic lair, and leaves very few people suspicious as to the changes in their friendly, neighborhood wall-crawler.

I'll be back for the fourth volume.

Pacific Rim: Tales from Year Zero - I haven't seen the Pacific Rim movie and didn't have much interest in seeing it. I picked this one up because it was sitting in the new section of the library. At worst, nothing lost in skimming through it.

Instead I actually really enjoyed the read. The framing device of a journalist writing an article about the first year of the Jaeger wars works well to allow the story to visit each of the historical protagonists and to relate the start of the Jaeger program.

It's an engaging tale without a specific, single main character but rather visiting a number of characters to give us a feel for the history involved. And the comic has done what it's supposed to do: I want to see the movie now.

The Surrogates - A former student and student aide of mine recommended this volume a few years back, and I'd never given it a chance. I hadn't necessarily avoided it, just never got around to hunting it down until now.

The collection puts together a limited series of six issues telling a singular tale set in an intriguing future where the vast majority of the population lives their lives through surrogates, enabling people to eat, drink, smoke, sleep around, do whatever they want without fear of physical negative effects. Violent crime has all but disappeared, replaced instead with property damage and civil suits as the former crimes are now committed against surrogates, property, not people.

There is a portion of the population, however, that sees these changes as immoral, and that portion of the population is ready to revolt, to attack society and cripple the surrogate network...which is what they do. The threat that is so worrisome simply comes to pass in the end. The 'good guys' try to prevent it but can't. The main police officer, in fact, doesn't seem too bothered by the coming revolution, taking a whole lot of steam and drama out of our plot. When the 'good guy' doesn't mind if the horrible thing that's coming, there's not a whole lot of drama involved.

The artwork is engaging. The premise of the story is intriguing and has a lot of potential. The potential, however, never quite comes to fruition.

Primates - Jim Ottaviani continues to blow the doors off of the science-themed graphic novels. This one tells three stories, that of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas, three primate, field researchers, all of whom were proteges of Louis Leakey.

Ottaviani's writing streamlines the story a bit, combining certain incidents to make the stories a little cleaner, but he does - as he always does - provide thorough endnotes on his research and for further reading options for those interested. The artwork by Maris Wicks is cartoonish but appropriately so, showing the three women as distinct people, a trait that isn't always the case with all artists.

The book is a great read and a quality starting point for anyone interested in these three women or the change that they brought to our methods of primate behavioral research.

Super Graphic - This isn't one I'll need to go back through again and again, but it's one that I enjoyed flipping through once.

Sadly, almost the entire book is available online if you type in the amazingly cryptic 'super graphic' in Google's image search if you really want  'em.

It's a fun read, and seeing everything in much larger resolution (you know, in meatspace) is way better than seeing the low-res images out in the digital world. I do dig the visual representation of so much super hero data - even if some of the items aren't exactly quantitative (like the likeability of the various Flashes.)

Fables: In All the Land - I'm not entirely sure why this one is a stand-alone volume, but I don't really care because it's a blast to read and well up to the high standards of the main Fables series.

Cinderella returns as the most competent superspy and - more in this volume - detective in the Fables community looking into a series of murders with an enchanted sword that demands a second kill for every life taken. Turns out that someone is using the sword to dispatch the titular fairest in all the land - Snow White, Rose Red, and eventually Cinderella herself. There's lots of continuity here, and little is done to explain that to any readers jumping in here, so this isn't a starting point for any new readers, but it's a must for anybody following the storyline.

Numerous artists tell small slices of the story, bringing their own style to the tale, something that happens a little less frequently in the main series, I guess.

The Manhattan Projects (vol 1 & 2) - I have no idea where anybody could have come up with these freakish ideas.

Above you can see Albert Einstein and Richard Fenyman aboard a space station with a gun aimed at a robot housing the electronic brain of FDR. 

And that's Robert Oppenheimer's murderous twin, Joseph, gazing into a door between dimensions and dreaming of the other-dimensional Oppenheimers who he can kill so that he can eat their brains, becoming smarter with each ingestion.

And that's Harry S Truman (in the headdress and speech balloon) with his cabinet having to postpone the orgy because something has come up in Los Alamos. I think they frickin' killed Twinkie the Kid, man.

I can safely say that Jonathan Hickman, the author of Manhattan Projects (note the pluralization), is a sick, sick man. He's also brilliant because the horrible tales that arise from his twisted take on post-World War II history underneath the sands of Los Alamos, deep inside the Kremlin, on distant planets and dimensions, within the head of Joseph Oppenheimer, and within the secret rituals of Harry Truman's world leadership cabal are absolutely mesmerizing.

I am eagerly awaiting PLCH's purchase of volume 3.

Astonishing X-Men: Unmasked - The Whedon run of Astonishing was excellent. I'm glad I read it in collections and not as it was being delayed initially.

I didn't so much care for the Warren Ellis run. It was okay, but they stories weren't anything much to write home about.

I was surprised then to find that I really enjoyed this final collection of the Astonishing series, the last in the run before it spun off into Amazing.

This collection has three stories, the first two of which are solid reads. The third is okay but is lesser.

In particular, I enjoyed the middle tale of Bobby Drake's Iceman gone godlike, sending the entirety of North America into a near ice age as his depression and left-over influence of Apocalypse (I haven't read that story yet, I have it on reserve) push him into a funk and bring out a far more powerful version of Iceman than we've ever seen before. It's an effective outer manifestation of the inner turmoil that is always beneath the surface of Drake's character as he's usually written.

The first arc, looking at the new Warbird's finding of her feelings, a weakness within the Shi'ar race, is interesting enough and makes for nice character development. The final arc sees an alien youngster causing a few problems for the X-Men, and it's the weakest of the three tales. The middle one, though, is well worth the price of admission.

Shazam (new 52) -  Where's Captain Marvel?

Did he disappear to modern updates or to corporate litigiousness?

And where's Billy Batson, the wholesome kid whose conscience guided the world's most mighty mortal?

Where's the wizened Wizard who granted Captain Marvel his powers when he said the acronym of Shazam?

We get a nasty brat of a fifteen-year-old Billy Batson, a Shazam who asks for money after saving a woman from a mugging and blows it on junk food, and a dying wizard who settles for Billy Batson after being badgered by Batson in a mystical subway station.

This modern updating of Shazam is a missed opportunity and a disappointment.

The Incredible Hulk (vol 2) - I missed the first volume of this new series but have since reserved it so I can be all caught up. Luckily the story so far is recapped two or three times in these volumes so anyone jumping in will be fully up to speed. Jason Aaron has written something of a new gimmick with the Hulk, in which Bruce Banner is plotting something, setting things into motion while in his human form then disappearing into The Hulk when it suits him. The Hulk continually finds himself 'waking' up into mysterious situations, unaware of how he's gotten there or what he's supposed to be doing. Banner isn't his partner but rather someone using The Hulk for his bulk and invulnerability.

It's an interesting take on the 'you wouldn't like him when he's angry' replaced with 'you wouldn't like him when he's calm' and along the lines of the more recent incarnation of Bruce Banner as really being almost the more dangerous of the pair because of his brilliance and cunning ability to put plans into motion three, four, a dozen steps ahead of what anyone else can foresee.

I am intrigued...

Django Django - I heard the best track on this album, "Default," on the radio a month or so ago and hunted down the full album from whence it came.

The album's not as good as "Default" promised, but it's an enjoyable listen through, mixing traditional instrumentation and electronica into an attractive and weirdly danceable disc.

Give "Default" a try and see if it's for you. It is typical of the style of the album, though many of the songs are nearly fully instrumental. The entire album is available through their videos on YouTube.

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