Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Night Fights: Brotherly Love

It's Friday, it's five to five, it's Cracker... erm, Friday Night Fights! So, in response to Spacebooger's One Panel of Pain challenge, here's tonight's.

This time it's synthezoid versus ionic being as Vision fights Wonder Man for Wanda's affections. Vizh hits so hard he almost punches Simon out of the panel and into our faces. Looks like Wonder Man's been eating Kirby Krackle for breakfast again.


This face whacking panel is from the Avengers vol 3, issue #23 by Kurt Busiek (writer), George Perez (pencils) and Al Vey (inks).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Devil You Know (by Mike Carey)

Firstly, I thought I'd point out that this Devil You Know is the starting volume of the Felix Castor series of books by Mike Carey and should not be confused with other Devil You Know books - there's a lot with that title!

Anyway, sometime ago, I was looking through my local library for Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books, couldn't find any, and so had a look at this. I know Mike Carey's name from the Vertigo and X-Men comic books and the write-up on the back sounded interesting. And after the first few pages, I was hooked.

This is a great book and is easily in my top ten. In a similar vein to Dresden, the main character of this book - Felix Castor - is a freelance exorcist who is hired to remove a ghost from a London archive. Felix is like a modern day, English Marlowe; he's more of a wisecracking, tough psychic private detective than a priestly exorcist. The best bit about the book though is the way Carey mixes ghosts, zombies and were-creatures into modern-day Britain. These creatures definitely exist in this world, many people have seen them or know about them, and they are even recognized by the government - which, of course, causes a shed-load of legal issues.

This mystery/whodunnit/thriller/horror/urban fantasy novel seems to zip along and is very easy to read. Perhaps it helps that Carey is British (born in the Northwest but now in London) and writes with an English voice? The only slight criticism I'd have is that near the end there's a bit too much of an info dump as a lot of what's gone on before gets explained - a bit like the end of every Scooby Doo show. But that's a minor quibble; I'd certainly recommend this book, as it's one of the best I've read in a long time.

His second book in the series - Vicious Circle - is just as good as well and an excellent continuation of this Felix Castor series. I also just ordered the third book - Dead Men's Boots - from my library, so expect a review of that in the near future. There's also a fourth book (Thicker than Water) out and a fifth (The Naming of the Beasts) is on its way.

If you like urban fantasy books like the aforementioned "Harry Dresden" novels or Simon R Green's "Nightshade" series, then you'll definitely like this. Grade: Near Mint.

Mr Manhattan


See "moore" of this wonderful set of Mr Men meets the Watchmen images (plus other Mr Men movie characters) by a guy called Seven Hundred over on Flickr.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Smallville: Legion (s8 ep11)

Well, that's more like it. After last week's disappointing episode, this week's - starring the three founding members of the Legion of Superheroes - was much more welcome.

There was action. There were guest appearances from other DC characters. There was not so much soppiness. And the only two problems I had were that (a) we didn't see enough of the Persuader (in fact I didn't see him at all because I missed the beginning couple of minutes) and (b) the whole "Brainiac downloading memories/information from people" thing was a bit silly. 

This episode, written by Geoff Johns (one of my favourite comic book writers at the moment), re-enforced Clark's future legacy and his standing as the foremost superhero. There were lots of little bits about Clark becoming Superman ("Where's your cape?" and "Why don't you fly?") without actually mentioning Superman or Superboy. And, perhaps surprisingly for Johns, the main theme of this episode concerned Clark's heroic stance on not killing others even if it means saving many more.

Unlike Heroes, this had a done-in-one story that also had a background pieces that linked to ongoing threads throughout this season (Brainiac coming back, Davis turning into Doomsday, etc). I much prefer Smallville's format to that of Heroes.

So, a great episode for a fan-boy like me. And great to see Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl. Grade: Fine.

Heroes: Exposed (vol 4 ep 5)

Ho hum. I think Heroes has lost its way somehow. Volume 4 started off well but since the first episode things have gone downhill, evidenced by the fact that I didn't even bother to "review" last week's episode. It's not terrible - far from it - but it is slow, due to the fact that they're spreading a single continuing story line over 13 episodes, rather than having 13 individual stories but linking them together by an overarching plot (like, say, Smallville).

As well as the glacial pacing, I think part of the problem is due to the various threads that were in this week's episode. The main plot concerned Matt and Peter getting some info from Rebel about where Daphne was supposedly held and heading into the bad guys' lair. They didn't find Matt's missus but they did find some incriminating video that they could use to blackmail Nathan and his Hunter.

That main plot was fine, if a little slow, but it didn't help by breaking up with Sylar's B plot and Claire's C plot. Just as things got interesting in the main thread, they switched to Sylar still looking for his dad or Claire hiding some guy who can breathe underwater. Really, I'm not interested in Claire and her love-life, especially not when it means losing the momentum in the main plot. And I just wish Sylar would find his dad already and get that over with.

These various threads - together with the Hiro & Ando one over in India - really have nothing to do with one another.

Still, an episode of Heroes is better than nothing. I'm still interested in finding out what happens to these guys, how they stop the hounding, who Rebel is and so on. But only just. Grade: Very Good.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spotify

I've just found out about Spotify - a wonderful (newish) music streaming application.

You download a little application to your PC, which then allows you to search for songs hosted within Spotify, create playlists of these tracks and listen to them from your PC. It's sort of like good quality internet radio where you get to choose all of the tracks.

There's three ways of accessing Spotify. You can either pay £10 a month, pay 99p to listen for one day (24 hours), or use it free of charge. The only downside with the free version is that ads appear on the application (which, for most of the time, you'll just have minimized anyway so you won't see them) and audio ads appear roughly every 20 minutes between tracks. These audio ads are quite short - about 30 seconds long - and occur reasonably infrequently so they're not intrusive. In fact, they're nothing like as annoying as those on commercial radio stations.

To be honest, I'm not sure why someone would pay a tenner a month for this when the free version is almost as good.

There's quite a selection of tracks and albums listed on Spotify, although obviously I haven't done anything like a thorough search. I did notice that Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails and Octopus by The Human League weren't listed but everything else I had a look for, including recent albums like Lily Allen's It's Not Me It's You, was.

Okay, the downside of this is that you need to download and run a little app and be constantly connected to the internet in order to stream the music. You don't download the music files to your machine, which means you can't transfer them to a blank CD or to your MP3 player.

Still, you do get to listen to the music you want for free!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Spotlight: Bryan Hitch

What can I say about Bryan Hitch? His work is phenomenal.

I first saw his work on Uncanny X-Men, where he was pretty much an Alan Davis imitator (and, yes, I plan to spotlight Alan Davis sometime in the future). Even then his work was good but since then he's become much better - his art becoming more 'realistic'. Of course, he's best known for his 'widescreen' work on the Authority and the Ultimates, both of which were excellent.

More of his work can be seen all over the web but have a look here, here and here for some great Hitchy pictures.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Night Fights: Thwam-Krakk!

It's Friday again. That means it's time for Friday Night Fights and Spacebooger's One Panel of Pain. So let's go.

Today it's time for Bart Allen, aka Impulse (before he was aged, lost his appealing impulsiveness, became Flash, and then died), to deliver a superspeed double-kick-to-the-face! Sounds like Bart broke the poor evil henchman's jaw there.


This week's One Panel of Pain is from DC's Impulse #1, by Mark Waid (writer), Humberto Ramos (pencils), Wayne Faucher (inks) and Tom McCraw (colours).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Infinite Crisis

Infinite Crisis, written by Geoff Johns with art by Phil Jimenez, George Pérez, Ivan Reis, and Jerry Ordway, was DC's big crossover event in 2005/2006 and the follow-up to one of the first superhero-universe-crossing events, the original Crisis on Infinite Earths (COIE). This review is a bit late - then again, that's true of all my TPB reviews - but, anyway, here's what I thought of the TPB collecting issues #1 to #7 of IC. Note that this does not contain any of the tie-ins.

Well, it's a crossover and, as with nearly all crossovers, you don't get the full story. Then again, in order to cover every single little nuance of IC you'd have to follow dozens of different books. Still, what you do get generally makes sense without having to read all the spin-offs (although sometimes some annotations help). Geoff Johns puts together a decent story concerning the heroes of DC's universe fighting against the three ex-heroes - Alex Luthor, Superman of Earth 2 and Superboy Prime - who went off to "heaven" at the end of the COIE.

Unfortunately, that's where the first problem starts. COIE established that the characters of Alex Luthor, Superman of Earth 2 and Superboy Prime were great heroes worthy of paradise; they saved the day at the end of COIE. Casting them as villains in this Crisis feels somewhat forced - especially considering how villainous Alex and Superboy are portrayed here. Thankfully, Earth 2 Superman is redeemed at the end, but Superboy is left as a raging, psychotic maniac and Alex is brutally killed, thus ending this character's brief life.

And that brings us to the other problem that plagues IC - the violence. There are a number of panels that depict characters having their arms ripped off or their head punched into adjacent panels. Black Adam pushes his fingers through Psycho-Pirates eyes and out the back of his head and we get to see all the bloody results. It's generally too much. As shown in some of his other books, Geoff Johns seems to have a thing for bloody violence and, certainly in DCs flagship book like IC, it's not welcome.

It's a pity Johns has such a violent streak, because other than the above two problems this is an exciting read. I enjoyed COIE when I read it in TPB form (I didn't get to read the series in 1985) and, I think, generally IC is a better read. It brings together all of DC's superheroes against a universal threat, which is always great to see and read. Being a fan of superteam books, I love seeing various heroes working together and love the super-bizarreness of huge battles and villains smashing planets together to create new ones.

This time, instead of George Perez (who pencilled COIE), Phil Jimenez provides most of the art on this series. Although, IMO, he's not as good as Perez, his line work is still very impressive. It's very fine, detailed and fun of energy and a lot is crammed onto a page. This is one time where the art would definitely benefit from being reproduced in a larger format.

Unfortunately, Jimenez does not do all the art in this TPB. A minority of the pages are provided by Ivan Reis, Jerry Ordway and the great George Pérez, all of whom are very good artists. I think they merge quite well with the other pages and there's not that much of a disconnect. Reis' style is probably the most different from Jimenez's but even there the transition is not jarring. It's probably helped by the colouring, which, although darker than I would have liked (COIE's lighter colouring was preferable), does a decent job.

Apparently some of the pages of art and dialogue have been changed in this TPB since the monthly floppies went out. Having not seen the original version, I can't really comment. If DC wants to correct any mistakes or clarify things since producing the floppies then that's fine with me - it's just a pity they didn't have the time to do it at the time.

I have the hardback version of this TPB that includes a good assortment of extras. There are the covers, of course, but also interviews with the creators, a discussion of why the changes were made, some used and unused pencil sketches and, I think, a script. So, on the extras front, this does pretty well.

Overall this is a decent story with great art. It suffers from being a company-wide crossover, which means that parts of the story are not explored within this TPB, and from moments of bloody darkness but, perhaps surprisingly, it's very enjoyable. As Andy Khouri of CBR mentioned, "The last time I had this much fun reading comics was when I was twelve years old... I love Crisis On Infinite Earths and this sequel was exactly what I wanted". I agree.

Grade: Very Fine.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Smallville: Bride (s8 ep10)

The majority of this episode was somewhat soppy and… well… dull. It was Chloe and Jimmy's wedding so it was all lovey-dovey. Strangely they had the wedding in Clark's barn (married in a barn?!?), which I guess saved money on building a new set. Lois was also getting all misty-eyed over Clark. I think Lois' affections were reciprocated - Clark almost kissed Lois - but it was difficult to tell because Clark always looked kind of bemused. There didn't seem to be any emotion shown on Tom Welling's face at all.

Lana returned, which stopped the aforementioned kiss between Lois and Clark. To be honest, I'm not really bothered about Lana. For umpteen seasons, we watched as the Clark and Lana storyline went nowhere and now I'm actually glad she's gone. Well, she was until now (and, I believe, this return is only temporary).

So, overall, meh.

And then, in the last ten minutes or so, Davis turns into Doomsday and trashes the wedding, kidnapping Chloe and mortally wounding poor Jimmy. Of course, Clark stumbles into a box containing some Kryptonite so doesn't get to fight much against Doomsy (ho hum). But still, these last moments at the end managed to drag this week's Smallville out of Dullsville and leave me excited for next week's episode. It's amazing what a cliff-hanger can do!

Grade: Very Good (mainly due to the last quarter of the show).

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I've Watched the Watchmen!

Hallelujah! ;-)

I have now seen the Watchmen movie. And I thought it was pretty good, better than I was expecting. In parts it was blinking excellent and in others it was just above okay but in general I enjoyed it. Sure, it wasn't the "graphic novel" (and it was never going to be) but it was a decent adaptation.

A friend of mine, who does not read comic books, also thought it was good. I had been worried what someone not familiar with the original work would think of this but it seemed to go down well. Although I suspect I was seeing the film in a different way to him.

Anyway, on to some random good and bad points...

Good Things

1. The acting. I liked Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Comedian and Jackie Earle Haley was excellent as Walter Kovacs when he was outside his mask (the growling voice-over was a little too heavily done though). I actually thought Matthew Goode was quite, ahem, good as Ozymandias.

2. The music and score.

3. Doc Manhattan. Sometimes the CGI was a little off but his voice - including the weird whale-like sounds in the background - was a great choice.

4. Doc Manhattan's background story on Mars (which, I think, equated to issue 4 of the comic book).

5. The shape of the Rorschach's blood splatter at the end.

6. The little ironic juxtapositions of image and voice-over. For instance, the "curtains" as the Comedian drops to the ground. Although, unfortunately, there weren't as many as the comicbook.

7. Easter eggs such as the snow globe, the S.Q.U.I.D, Nite Owl saving Batman's parents and so on.

Bad Things

1. The sex scene aboard Archie went on far too long (although the background music was amusing).

2. To much bloody violence. Yes, I know the comic book is quite bloody but, with a bit of restraint, this film might have been rated 15.

3. The lack of dead bodies in New York after Ozy's masterplan is complete. The horror in the original comic book gruesomely highlighted the depths that Ozy had plummeted to "save the world". And, yes, I know this conflicts with number 2 above.

4. Nite Owl's "Noooooo!" near the end.

5. No Hollis Mason death. They made the effort to show him near the beginning so they should've showed his death as well.

6. The rather low-key beginning - well, at least until Comedian's death.

 

There were probably a few other good and bad things that I've forgotten now.

Overall, I thought the new, squid-less ending was fine. I can see why it was done and it worked within this film. It would've been better if we'd seen the affects of the Manhattan-bombs more but generally I'm okay with it. The squid would probably have been too jarring anyway.

My main concern with this film is its reception. It might have done well in its first weekend but after the first week the viewing figures have dropped like a stone. Certainly, in the cinema complex I saw this, Watchmen was only shown once per night, in the smallest screen and only a handful of people attended. The 18 certificate and the lack of advertising (perhaps due to the aforementioned restricted certification) didn't help.

So, considering Watchmen is considered one of the greatest superhero comic book graphic novels of all time, its film version hardly set the world alight. It wasn't a huge success and probably didn't get lots of non-geeks thinking how wonderful comic books, and comic book movies, are.

Ah, well. I’ll give this a Very Fine grade.

Roll on Christmas and the extended, director's cut DVD!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jack Staff: Everything Used To Be Black and White

Apparently, Jack Staff was originally Paul Grist's pitch to Marvel for a new Union Jack series. However, for whatever reason, it didn't happen so Paul Grist adapted it into Jack Staff and wrote, drew and published 12 issues under Dancing Elephant Press. And, certainly, when you look at this collection of the 12 issues of volume 1 of Jack Staff’s adventures, the link between the titular hero and Union Jack is clear.

It tells the tale of "Britain's Greatest Hero" who has been missing for 20 years. Jack Staff, whose alias (like the Doctor's) is John Smith, reappears and saves Becky Burdock, a reporter. Unfortunately, Becky is soon after bitten by the supernatural Sergeant States and becomes a vampire reporter. The stories go on to tell of Jack Staff’s fight against Sgt. States, his confrontation with the retired Alfred Chinard (aka the Spider) and meetings with various homages to old British comic book characters.

Although in summary the stories seem interesting and involving, the problem with this TPB is that the small chapters within each issue tell a non-linear story. One chapter will end on a cliffhanger only for the next one to go back and show the same events from a different point of view. Or zip back to some earlier point in time to explain what went on before. Or jump ahead only to come back and explain what happened later. This is purely a personal thing but I prefer my stories to follow a linear fashion - A to B to C and then to D. Not A to C then to B then back to C then A again before confusingly arriving at E, leaving D to be explained sometime later. I have a simple mind and this tends to confuse the bejesus out of me.

Also, although the art does manage to tell the story aptly, it really is rather minimalist. As the witty title indicates, it's all in black and while. Not only that but Grist's art style is quite simple and thus it reminds me of black and white cartoon strips in newspapers (and only a middling version at that). It's far from impressive. It also doesn't help that his faces, and body shapes, all look quite similar. Oh, and there's often oodles of blank space around the edges of some pages which just makes some parts of this feel a little empty.

On the positive side, the book is quite thick and well put together. It looks pretty impressive. And the cover looks quite nice, which makes me wonder whether a coloured interior would work better - I'm generally not a fan of black and white TPBs (I'm not that much of a fan of Marvel's Essential books either). The versions of old British comic characters are also quite welcome. It's great to see characters like Tom Tom the Robot Man, whose look is based on Robot Archie, and Alfred Chinard, who's The Spider.

Although I had hoped this would be a great British superhero yarn, for me it turned out to be more of a yawn (the first time I read this I became disinterested half-way through and gave up). Other people seem to think it's great so it seems to be just me who thinks the art and writing are only average at best. You can make up your own mind by viewing issue #1 of vol 1 and issue #1 of vol 2 at Image Comics website. But, for me, this TPB just gets a Good grade.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Spotlight: Mike Wieringo

Unfortunately, Mike Wieringo is no longer with us but as soon as I saw his art I loved it. I only really caught his fantastic figurework on the Fantastic Four and he captured the world's greatest heroes perfectly. Looking at his site, every one of his pictures looks wonderful - it's difficult to pick three. So I went with Kitty and Lockheed (because I love those characters), the FF (of course) and a brilliant Cap and Supes pic, below.

See more at Mike's official site and his deviant art site.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Red Nose Day

Yesterday “Kilimanjaro - the Big Red Nose Climb” was on as the warm up act to today’s Red Nose Day. This show followed the exploits of around seven TV and music celebrities as they trekked up Africa’s tallest mountain, Kilimanjaro (I had to look up how to spell that). I don’t know why it’s entertaining to watch a bunch of celebs put themselves through pain and discomfort (its a bit like I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here) but it was. And very funny as well! Especially when it showed that the man with a face made for radio and the least fit amongst them, chubby Chris Moyles, found things easy going and suffered the least in that high-altitude simulator lab place.

Of course, the show was poignant and sad as it also highlighted the lack of resources and medical aid that places in Africa have to deal with every day. It makes you realise how lucky we are here in the UK with our wonderful National Health Service.

Anyway, later tonight the Red Nose Day telethon takes place, which is always good fun. So, remember – do something funny for money (like maybe bid for Amazing Fantasy #15 if you have the money?).

Friday Night Fights: Wallop!

Oh boy, it's that time again for One Panel of Pain!

Yes, indeed. This time it's the blue behemoth himself - Wallop (what a great, and apt, name) of the Clandestine - facing off against some mindless mutating minions. And, man, he definitely has "a flair for excessive violence". Ouch!

...taken from Clandestine (vol 1) #1 brought to you by the mighty Alan Davis (writer and penciller) and Mark Farmer (inker).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

By the Light of the Moon (Dean Koontz)

Over the years I've sometimes dipped my toe into horror novels, some by the likes of Stephen King and Clive Barker. Books by Dean Koontz – of which I’ve read many - apparently get put into this same category although I'm not sure why. Many of the books I've read by Koontz aren't really horror. I would tend to call them action thrillers.

Okay - some of his stories do have supernatural or superhuman aspects to them, this one included (albeit with a slightly futuristic/scientific spin to it). But they're not horror. Instead, “By the Light of the Moon” is again more of a thriller.

After reading a few of these it soon becomes clear that Koontz's books often have a familiar pattern to them. The protagonist (usually a fair man with a slightly old-fashioned and optimistic outlook on life) gets involved in some mysterious event. Perhaps he witnesses a murder or encounters an unusual person, like he does in this book. He is then pursued by someone or some agency intent on capturing/killing him. As the story unfolds, so does the mystery, the protagonist meets up with a woman (whom he often starts to care for and fall in love with) and we eventually learn the reasons why the hunter is after the hunted. There's also usually a socially, or mentally, disabled person featured somewhere - someone with Downs syndrome or who’s autistic or something along those lines.

The other common theme with Koontz's writings is that they are generally dynamic and dramatic. The story usually zips along at thrilling, refreshing speed. And the beginning chapters of his books are usually a good example of this. The initial setup and confrontation are introduced straight away with very little lead up.

Like this story where, within the first few pages of the book, a kind of mad scientist holds artist Dylan O'Conner and comedian Jillian Jackson against their will and injects them with some sort of weird "stuff" that is the scientist's "life's work". Dylan looks after his autistic brother Shep and together they meet up with Jilly and are soon on the run from a group of trained killers that are after the mad scientist and anyone with whom he’s had contact.

Soon, the effects of the "stuff" begin to surface. It affects a person's mind, changing it, and (in some cases) endowing the recipient with superhuman abilities. Jilly starts to see strange visions of events in the future, Dylan is able to read a person's intentions from their psychic spore and even Shep seems to be different. But the common thread between all of them is that they seem to be unnaturally compelled to do good.

Unlike other stories by Koontz, this one seems padded out with unnecessary descriptions and exposition. I felt that the book could have been about two-thirds the size of its 480 page-count and it would still get everything across. It would probably read a little better as well. Still, like many of Koontz's books, this is a great thriller that - surprisingly - ends up becoming something of a superhero origin story (which, for me, is a bonus). By the end, the heroes of the story have gained superpowers and have decided to use them to help people – they even give their group a superhero-sounding name.

Although a little wordy at times, this is recommended if you like suspenseful thrillers with an unusual twist. Grade: Fine.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Heroes (vol 4 ep 3) and Smallville (season 8 ep 9)

Heroes – “Building 26”

Heroes first, which was on Monday evening here in the UK. Not that I have a lot to add other than to say that this week's episode seemed a little slower than, and not as eventful as, the others. Not much seemed to happen. Some government woman visited Nathan and his team and was considering closing down his "capture the heroes" operation. Then that Hunter guy let Tracy escape and she froze somebody, killing them. That made the government woman reconsider (because, of course, a prisoner who had been tortured and then kills someone whilst trying to escape means that all superpowered people are dangerous and should not be allowed the usual human rights).

Meanwhile, Sylar had that kid tagging along and edged closer to finding his father, Claire told her mother about what Noah's doing, and - for some unknown reason - Hiro and Ando stopped a woman in India from marrying a man she didn't love. Not sure what that latter one is all about.

Anyway, it's okay but not as exciting as the last couple of episodes. Also, what did the title of this have to do with anything? It drops to Very Good.

Smallville – “Abyss”

Now Smallville. I forgot all about this being on E4. It had been repeating the episodes of season 8 that were shown before Christmas but now it's caught up and on to new episodes. In fact, a new episode was shown last week and I missed it (something about Clark going to the Phantom Zone and finding Kara).

Anyway, this was a great episode. Little Chloe was very convincing as a younger version of Big Chloe although Little Clark wasn't. Nice effects with Chloe's memories disappearing and the Krypton symbols. Some interesting foreshadowing of the coming of Doomsday. And, oh heck, the crystals in the Fortress of Solitude have now been infected with black Brainiac goo.

Unfortunately, the resolution of Chloe's memory loss was a bit of a cop-out. Clark just took her to the Fortress and Compu-Jor-El "cured" her. Easy-peasy, no problems. All over in moments. Hmmm...

I'm rather fond of Smallville. Yes, I know it's not brilliant. Sometimes you have to forget common sense, its version of the Superman history doesn't match the comic book, and belief is often stretched to breaking point - but it is entertaining. And it's fun when new guest characters based (sometimes loosely) on comic book heroes pop up. Fine.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Astonishing X-Men: Torn

This feels like three issues padded out to six.

That's my general thoughts on this trade paperback, which collects together issues 13 to 18 of the Astonishing X-Men comic book by Joss Whedon (writer) and John Cassaday (art). It's a good TPB, especially if you like the X-Men (like I do), with an interesting story and impressive art. But it seems short, lightweight and an easy read. After you zip through it you feel the writer could have easily done this in half the space.

The story goes something like this. Emma Frost, who used to be the White Queen, now accepted - albeit reluctantly - into the X-Men, has been in contact with a new Hellfire Club made up of some old faces (Sebastian Shaw and Cassandra Nova) and some new. With Emma's help, they have managed to infiltrate Xavier's school and plan on taking down the X-Men. Which they do by turning Wolverine into a scared boy, unleashing Beast's wild side, and mentally trapping Cyclops in his "bug room".

Meanwhile, Ord of the Breakworld - who was captured by S.W.O.R.D and held on their space station - is freed by Danger, the sentient danger-room. They now know which mutant will destroy Breakworld and so both of them head to the X-Men's mansion to stop him. In the end there's a fight (this is a superhero comic book after all), the X-Men beat the Hellfire Club but Cassandra Nova gets what she was after, just before everyone is beamed aboard a S.W.O.R.D ship heading for Breakworld.

Joss Whedon produces a good story, full of twists and fan-pleasing surprises. Again, he shows that he's excellent at dialogue - just like on Buffy. He's also not afraid to let the art explain what's going on - he doesn't fill the page with tons of exposition. It's just a pity it's so decompressed.

Cassaday's art is clean and attractive, full of thin lines and often lots of detail - see the image I posted on Friday as an example. However, the art also relies a lot on the shaded colours to give a sense of depth and add life to some of the faces. The art is good, just not as amazing as some people seem to make out. Sometimes - such as with the S.W.O.R.D ship near the end - things just don't quite look right. Still, overall, I like the art.

Generally, Astonishing X-Men feels like a carry on from Grant Morrison's New X-Men, using many of the same characters and a similar feel with the mansion and students. So, if you liked those stories then this is a fitting continuation. Of course, it helps if you've read the earlier Astonishing X-Men issues or TPBs. And the ending of this TPB is a bit of a cliff-hanger containing threads not completely resolved, which means it also helps if you read the TPB that follows this. But with decent artwork, Whedon's humorous scripts and an engaging - if light and decompressed - story, this is recommended if you're a fan of the X-Men.

Grade: Fine.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Last Night's TV

Unfortunately, Being Human is no longer on so Sunday night TV has become a bit boring again. Anyway, here's some quick comments on yesterdays trashy (or not so trashy) TV:

Wolverine and the X-Men

Okay, this wasn't on last night but it was on yesterday on the CBBC channel here in the UK. I mentioned this a while back in my link to the X-Men Evolution cartoons. This more recent cartoon series follows on in a similar style although it's, ahem, 'evolved' and different.

It's pretty good. Instead of just being done-in-one stories there's a feeling of an ongoing storyline filtering through the episodes. Unfortunately, either the episodes are shown out of order, the way the episodes are put together is muddled, or my memory is a bit confused (this option is highly likely) but it feels at times like the episodes don't flow together.

Still, it's a great, well-made cartoon series - looking out for guest-starring mutants that have been in the X-Men books is fabulous fun. And whoever voices Magneto does a great impression of Ian McKellan.

Update: I've since found out that apparently here in the UK we're getting these Wolverine and the X-Men episodes before the US and Canada. But after places like Brazil and Portugal (although this seems vague)? Or something. I didn't realise these were so new - I had thought they'd been aired last year in the US. I also didn't realise that CBBC was showing WatXM on days other than Sunday, which means that I might have missed some episodes. Damn!

Dancing On Ice

Ray Quinn is still the obvious frontrunner (even if he does come across as a little smarmy). But, with Todd Carty being dropped weeks ago, this show isn't as entertaining - albeit in a cringe worthy way - as it was.

Come Dine With Me

This is the show where 4 or 5 people take turns to invite the others round to their house for a three-course and then they score each other on how good the food, and entertainment, was. This was probably the most amusing show on last night, mainly due to the weird characters and the voice-over man with his sly, witty comments. Had me laughing anyway.

Two Pints of Lager...

...and a Packet of Crisps, BBC3's longest running sitcom (and, perhaps, longest running show generally) set in Runcorn, just north of my hometown. First on last night there was a "special" with characters from other, lacklustre BBC3 sitcoms and then a "Making Of" type documentary. The former was, to be honest, not very good and, as my wife noted, the latter was actually more amusing. The thing I noted from this though was how tall Lauren Laverne is.

I've generally liked Two Pints, although it is somewhat juvenile and vulgar at times. However, I don't like it that much to actually watch it every week. In fact, looking at a number of clips I think I've missed lots of episodes. Not that I'm bothered to catch-up.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sunday Spotlight: Romeo Tanghal





After George Perez last week, I thought it made sense to highlight one of his collaborators - Romeo Tanghal. Although not well known, Romeo was the inker on the Teen Titans when Perez was pencilling them. I loved the Titans during this time and hence the picture of Wonder Girl / Donna Troy - one of my favourite Titans during my hormonal teenage years.


Above that is a picture of the Omega Men that Tanghal worked on, which includes my namesake - Nimbus (well, my online name anyway). Ya gotta love the pale, pointy-eared guy.

You can see more of Romeo Tanghal's work at this site.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Watchmen Cartoon

Apparently, Warner Bros is making a Saturday morning cartoon of the Watchmen to cash in of the success of the movie. Here's a screenshot:
Actually, I'm kidding. This is taken from a humourous fake trailer showing what the Watchmen might be like if they made an 80s Saturday morning cartoon of it. Go here and click on "Watch This Movie" to see the trailer. Absolutely hilarious and fantastic.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday Night Fights: Double Faceplant!

It's not quite Friday night yet but still... it's time for Spacebooger's One Panel of Pain!

And, as a relative newcomer to Friday Night Fights and blogging in general, I thought it was time to let one of the new(er) students at Xavier's school for young mutants deal out the pain.

So, without further ado, I'll let Armor, and her pounding fists, not logic, explain things in a physical way to Ord and Danger:

...taken from Astonishing X-Men #18, courtesy of Joss Whedon (writer), John Cassaday (art) and Laura Martin (colours).

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Happy Watchmen Movie Eve!

To contrast with the link to that Alan Moore interview that I posted yesterday, here's a link to an interview with Dave Gibbons. The bad news is that this interview is much, much shorter than Alan's; the good news is that Dave Gibbons has a much more positive view on things. I prefer Dave's restrained enjoyment to Alan’s dark contempt.

Also, Tom Mason has posted a list of Watchmen links galore! There's a lot of good stuff there - including the Dave Gibbons interview - but one of my favourites is Tom Spurgeon's 10+ Entrance Points Into Watchmen.

Well, what with that bit about Alan Moore yesterday and now this little post, it seems that my Watchmen Week is stretching over 10 days or so. And tomorrow, the movie finally gets released.

Nova: Annihilation Conquest

My friendly neighbourhood library comes to the rescue again! As well as having the Annihilation series of trade paperbacks (which I've read and enjoyed), it's now got Nova: Annihilation Conquest written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (DnA) with art by Sean Chen. This collects issues 1 to 7 of the latest Nova ongoing series. And, like the Annihilation crossovers and mini-series before it, it's generally good.

During Annihilation, the Nova Corps (sort of like Marvel's version of DC's Green Lantern Corps) were almost completely wiped out. The only surviving member was Richard Rider, Earth's Nova. Also during that mini-series, Nova had the entire Xandarian Worldmind uploaded into his brain together with the full Nova Force. Together with various other cosmic heroes, the vastly enhanced Nova helped defeat the Annihilation Wave.

This TPB picks up from there. The first issue deals with Nova - the single, lonely member of the Nova Corps - responding to all the emergencies in the galaxy. It effectively establishes both Nova's heroism (his desperation to save people whilst not thinking of himself) and his power level (he destroys powerful enemies with a single blast). Eventually, in the second and third issues, he heads back to Earth for some rest and to catch up on events back home. Of course, those issues are set just after the Civil War fiasco and the outcome and ramifications of that company crossover are, thankfully, explored in a much better and more meaningful way here than in Civil War itself.

The final four issues involve Nova going up against the techno-organic transmode-virus-carrying Phalanx, who have invaded the Kree. Ever since they appeared in the X-Men, I've never really much cared for the Phalanx but at least here their use as enslaving/mind-controlling bad guys is generally clear. During this deadly adventure, a Kree woman is given part of the Nova Force and becomes the first of the new Nova Corps. Unfortunately, her time as a Nova Centurion doesn't last.

DnA's writing is pretty good on this title. Considering I've never been bothered with Nova before, they do a good job of getting me interested in, and making me care for, the character. The stories are well written and zip along, showing the reader how powerful Nova can be. And when the new Nova Corps member Ko-Rel dies, it's quite a shock. It's all very well done.

Sean Chen's artwork is pretty good too, although nothing unusually spectacular. He tells the story well and his art is clear and unmuddied. It fits this book. And the TPB itself contains lovely glossy pages but only a small number of the usual extras, such as the covers and a few sketches from the series cover-artist Adi Granov.

Overall, this is a good TPB containing old-school style stories that has got me interested in Nova and his adventures - though perhaps not enough to actually go out and buy future TPBs (I have a bookshelf full of them already). Still, I'll look out for new Nova books at the library. Grade: Fine.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Alan Moore Knows the Score

...or, perhaps, doesn't.

There's an interesting interview with Alan Moore on the Wired.com website, where Alan talks a little about Watchmen, a bit more about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and plenty about adapting comic books into movies. And, of course, this being Alan Moore, you certainly get your money's worth!

Unfortunately, Alan Moore comes across as a bit of a grumpy old man, knocking down the comic book and film-making industries whilst making out that only he is able to produce great work. You’d think he’d be celebrating the joy that comic books can bring rather than rubbishing them whenever he can.

It doesn't help when he considers all comic books readers to be 40+ years old and calls them, "hopeless nostalgics or... perhaps cases of arrested development who are not prepared to let their childhoods go". To begin with, I think he's confusing the superhero genre with the comic book medium; the two are different. He also seems to think everyone after him has got it wrong and have never been able to place serious adult elements in their compositions.

Saying how stupid and childish comic book readers are isn't really going to help sell your up-and-coming comic book. Actually, it probably won't make a difference. But still, you have to wonder who Alan is aiming his comic book at. Thirteen-year-old kids, who apparently don't read comics any more, or the "40-year-old men who probably should know better"?

Now I'm still not particularly convinced by Alan Moore's reasons why he refuses to be linked to films made of his works. He says, "I really simply don't believe that any of my books could be benefited in any way by being turned into films"

Firstly, I don't think that, when the Hollywood suits decide to create a movie, the idea is to enhance a book. They're there to make money and, to a lesser extent, entertain people (entertaining people actually tends to lead to making more money so it's all linked).

The film can benefit the sales of a book. Those that see the film might decide to go out and buy the original book. Sure, it doesn't change the book itself but it might make the book more successful and might make the creator of the book more money (and, in turn, he can make more books and more pieces of 'art').

Of course, the film can turn out to be awful but this doesn't affect the original book. As Alan notes about Raymond Chandler when "he was asked about what he felt about having his books ruined by Hollywood. ...He led the questioner into his study and showed him all the books there on the bookshelf, and said, Look - there they all are. They're all fine". So it's not like a bad film will ruin his books. So why not agree to have your name place on the credits at the end of a film - and take the money (give it to charity if you want)? It was (loosely) based on your work, after all.

Yes, it's true that it can be difficult to translate a comic book into a movie. They're different mediums so, of course, they'll be different. But you can translate the story, the characters, and the feelings behind the comic book. The Spider-man films kind of managed it. So did many others. It brings a new audience to the story and the characters, which in turn might bring a new appreciation to the original work. That can't be a bad thing, can it?

Perhaps Alan just doesn't like dealing with the Hollywood suits? Perhaps it's easier for him to have nothing to do with it all rather than trying to have a civil, intelligent discussion with them? Or perhaps he doesn't like giving up control of the adaptation to a few dozen other people who all have different ideas to him?

Regarding comic books and films being different, Alan mentions that the comic book medium allows the reader to absorb every image, to read things at their own pace, to flip back and forth between images. And indeed this is a difference between comic books and films (in which you are "dragged through the scenario at a relentless 24 frames a second"). However, with DVDs this isn't quite the case. Films now contain "easter eggs" - little interesting snippets that can only be experienced if you pause the action or slow it down. DVDs allow the viewer to absorb every frame, to watch things at sort of their own pace.

So when Alan says "even the best director in the world... could not possibly get that amount of information into a few frames of a movie. Even if they did, it would have zipped past far too quickly" that's not strictly true any more. The X-Men films had characters appearing on computer screens or in the background that can be seen if you slow down the DVD.

As to comments like "these days I can see half a million Orcs coming over a hill and I am bored", well I think Alan's just being a bit silly. He was awed by Ray Harryhausen's animated skeletons and Willis O'Brien's King Kong. Sure they were (still are!) great. But, for me, I'm also awed by some of the recent CGI, like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the Balrog in Lord of the Rings or Spiderman swinging from the rooftops. I think this is just Alan's nostalgia raising its hairy head again.

In fact, the more I read the interview, the more it seems that Alan Moore is just hankering after the good old days and he's now become somewhat jaded in his old age.

Doesn't 'Near Miss' Mean it Hit?

Apparently there was an asteroid near miss on Monday. The asteroid, called 2009 DD45 (why don’t they give ‘em better names, like they do hurricanes?) passed the moon and came within 40,000 miles of Earth. Although not large, it would’ve done significant damage if it had hit Earth. Unfortunately, due to its smallish size, it seems there was only about two days warning!

Of course, this isn’t the first near miss we’ve had. There seems to be one reported nearly every year.

So, whilst we’re all worrying about the global economy and climate change, it’s reassuring to know that we could all be wiped out one day by a big chunk of space rock. That kinda puts things into perspective.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Devil's Cape by Rob Rogers

Firstly, I'll be upfront and say that this is a review of a book by an online friend of mine, Rob Rogers. As such, it's not entirely unbiased, but I'll try to comment on it fairly. Also, this book has been out for about a year now (and it's been about 6 months since I actually read it) so it's not entirely new or fresh.

Anyway, on with the review...

With an alliterative name like Rob Rogers, it was obvious that he was destined to write a superhero-based novel. And, indeed, that's what Devil's Cape is. It's a thriller about superheroes (with a bit of pirates thrown in) set in the seedy, corrupt city of Devil's Cape, a mix of Batman's gloomy Gotham City and a darker version of New Orleans. Powered villains rule the city until a trio of reluctant heroes step forward to bring a little light and hope into the place.

There aren't many original superhero novels out there; most superhero books seem to be tie-ins to existing comic book properties. Those original stories that do exist tend to be pretty good and this book is certainly no exception.

Like many first superhero movies, this is the origin story. But not just of one or two characters. It's the origin of around ten of them! Those characters are very different, interesting and realistically depicted. And yet they're still firmly in the superhero genre - i.e. they wear costumes and give themselves codenames like 'Doctor Camelot'. The book is dark - evil and corruption are everywhere and people die in horrible ways - and yet not overwhelmingly bleak or too adult to be off-putting. Overall, it's a damned good, gripping read.

It does have its faults though. The pacing and/or rhythm are a little off. There seem to be a few too many characters jostling for space. Also, the beginning half of the book (which contains cameo appearances from a number of my fellow PBeMers) describes 35 years of history of Devil's Cape and is perhaps a little too long. Conversely, the end of the book - with the final showdown between the three main heroes and the villains - seems a little rushed and, thus, perhaps a little underwhelming.

This is Rob's first book but it doesn't read like it. It's engaging and well written. As he continues to write more of these stories (and I really hope he does!), Rob should improve. Not that he needs to improve much - just enough to make a good book like this one into a great book. I'd heartily recommend this to anyone who enjoys unusual thrillers or action stories, especially those with a superhuman theme to them. Very Fine.