Tag Archives: JMS

More JMS and some DnA

Just as I was about to write off J. Michael Straczynski completely, I decided to try another of his books.  I picked up the first collection of Supreme Power and I have to say I enjoyed it a great deal. 

First off, this is not the most original book I have ever read, but when this came out in 2003-ish it was something that had not been seen as much as it has in the last few years.  8 years on, it feels a little “done before”, but that does not make this any less enjoyable.  JMS and artists Gary Frank and Jon Sibal offer a sort of “what if” story.  It is a redux of the Squadron Supreme from the 70’s era Marvel, but to be honest, you really get the DC vibe more here. The characters are all pretty direct analogs of  the main DC heroes and there is no attempt to cover that.  Since the original book was a direct “marvel version” of the DC Justice League, that really should not be a surprise.  In fact I can not think of a less subtle way of doing it.  This book’s versions of Superman and Batman have origins very similar to the DC ones and somewhat altered premises based on Green Lantern, Flash and Wonder Woman, in a very brief cameo, are all here.  The obvious corollaries end there, though.  These folks live in a very real world, surrounded by the real events that we grew up with.  That changes the dynamic greatly.  Suddenly, Batman is a racist, his African-American family having been killed by southern white supremacists.  The people this character, called Nighthawk,  helps are exclusively black.  The Green Lantern variant here appears to be schizophrenic and the Flash, here called The Blur, is a fairly ordinary guy that wants to be a hero and has no problem cashing a check for doing that.  The closest relation to the source material here is Hyperion, who stands in for Superman.  Having said all that, if you feel this is a bit tired, you would not be entirely wrong.  We HAVE seen this before and since.  There are small touches here of what would become Superman:  Earth One.  The thing that set this apart for me was the complete feel of the book.  Even well-worn ideas can seem fresh and exciting when done well by people putting their best work on display.  Gary Frank’s work here is superb, the static feel his art sometimes gets a bad, and unjustified knock for, creates a stillness that works perfectly for the story.  JMS hits all the right points to make this seem very real and believable.  There have been other revisionist takes in comics.  Watchmen, Planetary and even much of the New 52 try to do this, all with varying degrees of success.  Where this book succeeds is that it is not at all self-aware.  It feels like it is just as organic as any other origin story and does not reference anything outside of itself.  I never feel as though this is ripping off, or standing on the shoulders of some other work.

Next up this week was Nova by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.  I have come to really enjoy the writing of these two, known in the industry by the collective title DnA.  This book is no exception.  I have read the first two trades covering issues 1-12 and an annual.  I was almost put off the duo by The Annihilators.  The story was fine, the art was just this side of awful.  Tan Eng Huat has generally been a good artist, but this book felt very rushed.  While that one was a struggle to get through, Nova was the opposite.  Having read some of the other DnA works like Guardians of the Galaxy, The Thanos Imperative and Ressurrection Man ( the last, a great title from DC from the 90’s, ressurrected for the New 52), I was ready to jump into more of this universe.  Clean art and strong storytelling, mixed with characters that these guys really appear to understand, made this  a very good read.  Many fans today are a bit down on the cosmic books, and for a while, I was one of them.  These guys have made this a staple of the work they have done at Marvel, and made themselves the go-to writers in the genre, the same way Jim Starlin was through the 80’s and 90’s. 

Both of these books have made me want more.  Fortunately, there are 6 total volumes of Nova and 2 more Supreme Power with this creative team.  While it appears unlikely that JMS will return to write more of his book for Marvel, DnA are only just warming up.  It is clear they will keep building the Marvel cosmic universe for a long time to come, and I cannot wait for more.

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Superman Grounded vol 2

Superman Grounded vol 2

DC

168 pages

$23

Well, I reviewed volume 1 back in September, and I recall liking it.  Quite a bit.  Gosh, I wish I could say the same for volume 2!  This thing says “I changed my mind” at every turn.  A lot was made of J. Michael Straczynski leaving the book and I had my doubts as well at the time.  The first volume was a surprise.  Solid and consistent through, except for the interludes, which felt like filler.  Not that they were bad, they just didn’t work in that volume.  This book takes everything that the first volume got right and destroys it.  Sometimes by running it into the ground, others by ignoring or flatly contradicting it.  It is hard to point to the exact spot that JMS left most of the heavy lifting to Chris Roberson, and I don’t think it matters.  They are both good enough writers to know better.  Roberson in particular is one I have watched with great interest.  JMS on the other hand, really should have just stayed with this or let Roberson handle it on his own.  It is the mix of the two, as the only reason I can come up with, why this thing is so miserable.  It is not that any one thing is bad, the book just has the narrative flow of molasses in January.  Nothing has anything like dramatic impact, and there is never a point where I cared even a little for the outcome.

The fluctuating art chores are another part of the problem.  There are 5 pencillers and 7 inkers.  Unlike Identity Crisis or even 52, which tried their best to be as visually seamless as possible, this book is a mess.  All of the art is pretty good, but unless there is a narrative reason for such jarring changes, they can really kill a book.  Everything about this book screams “corporate Product” too.  I know DC is a company out to make money just like all the others, and that is no bad thing.  But when I can see the wires SO clearly, it removes the escapist enjoyment we are supposed to get from this kind of entertainment.  The appearance of the other major DC players is an even bigger issue.  The Flash is kind of wasted, Batman’s appearance feels like filler and an excuse to use the character, and Wonder Woman’s very brief trip into the story only reminds us of another book the JMS failed to do justice to.  If you were not familiar with what was going on over there in her regular book, her showing up here makes no sense at all.  As it was all of the appearances felt like a cross between Sammy Davis jr or some other celebrity sticking his head out of the window while Batman and Robin unconvincingly climb up the side of a building and the intense need to fill up a second complete volume.  Speaking of this volume, even the cover is jarring.  Liking the cover or not is not the issue (I didn’t really, but that is just a personal taste issue), the issue really is that this does not even look like it is the second volume.  While John Cassaday was not doing his best work on these covers, they tended to feel like inventory being used up, they pulled the individual issue together and would have done the same here.  This one looks just plain wrong next to volume one.  Everything about the second book feels like inventory.  No one cared.  I know the New 52 was well into the planning stages at this point, as it is likely that there was little attention paid to this book once the publicity for it died, but this whole thing is a slap in the face to the reader.

I don’t like writing all this negativity, so to sum up the gripe…

Superman Grounded volume one did what it was supposed to do as the first book in a two book set:  It made me want more.  Volume two just makes me want my money back.  And to smack someone.  And punch Superman in the gut.

 

 

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Superman Grounded: The Review

Superman Grounded

2011 DC Comics

168 Pages

$16 online-but buy it at your LCS if you can.

I was looking forward to this one.  There were a lot of mixed feelings in the industry as this was coming out monthly.  From the hit and miss nature of the story to the controversy surrounding J. Michael Straczynski’s departure from the series, this book had lots of light on it.  JMS pulled out after the huge success of Superman:  Earth One, and left the basic plotline in the hands of G. Willow Wilson, who also wrote some interlude issues.  Who wrote what does not really interest me at this point.  What matters is how good the book is, and I have to be honest, this is a decent book.  First, the weak point: the interludes.  These were put in as filler and to cover delays in the book.  They were likely going to be there in one form or another from the start, but as they are now, the really kill the flow of the book.  Which is not to say they are bad, as stand alone issues, they are fairly good reads.  But as a part of this book, they are literary speed bumps.  

The main story here is Superman’s trek across the nation he calls home.  Prompted by average human beings calling him out for the betrayal they feel from the events of earlier stories, and expressing their new level of distrust they feel for the alien, Supes decides to walk, like an ordinary man, across the country.  While not completely void of superheroics, this is a quiet book.  There is very little action here and it works like that.  From dealing with a suicidal girl on a high ledge, to pushing drug dealers out of a run down area, this books works as a character piece and a study of what people see as “hero” and what Joe Punchclock wants and expects from the world.  The issues brought up are as real as any I have ever seen in a comic, and they show Superman for the hero he is and the struggle he has in meeting the impossible standard he sets for himself.  The ordinary people that he encounters are not fair to him, in fact they are often mean and rude.  In that, they still manage to not be wrong.  The issues in the story are the kind of real world concerns that should be a part of any super hero story.  Like the fear that a mother in the park with her children would feel upon seeing Superman casually walk through.  Are her children in danger?  This man brings destruction in his wake.  His motivations are as positive as they can be, yet his presence is the very definition of danger.  These are not new to comics, but they are handled very strongly.  The people walk up to Superman with no fear or concern, talking to him like they would someone they have known all their lives.  In that honesty of storytelling is where this story has its heart.  This is the kind of Superman story that works in every way, succeeding at most everything it tries.

This and All-Star Superman make great bookends for the character.  They both do what they do better than almost any other attempt out there.  They try to define Superman.  One by setting that definition in his origins and deeper mythos, the other by showing Superman’s inner concerns, mirrored in the eyes of the people here has always tried to protect.

This is a great first volume (of 2) for someone trying to re discover Superman, but not wanting mindless comic drivel.  A fine read, and I will be picking up the second volume and will be sure to review it here.

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Thor

OK so there was this movie called Thor.  I will just say up front that I liked it.  The wife liked it too.

It was pretty much exactly what I expected and I got what I was looking for, the origin-insofar as the Marvel movie universe is concerned and the clear set up to the Avengers movie and a nod to the Captain America movie later this summer.  (the silly post credit bumper does both.  It sets up the Avengers and is a nod to events that happened back during the war that Cap was/will be when the movie comes out,  involved in)

This is the first of the big comic book blockbusters of the summer and I think things are off to a decent start.  Was the movie a bit of a mess from a narrative point of view?  Yes.  Was some of the acting a bit silly?  Yes.  But that is kind of the point.  There is a reason Marvel has shied away from the darker possibilities of their properties.  They could have gone darker with any of the films so far.  There needs to be mention of the X-Men films at this point.  Marvel does not have complete control over these films.  The same is true of  the Spider Man and Fantastic Four franchises as those deals were made before Marvel Studios was up and running in its current form.  They have a fair bit of input but ultimately the control they have is limited to what the controlling studio will allow.  The only films that have really tried are the Punisher films.  Dolph Lundgren does not count, sorry.  No, the Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson (also in Thor as mentioned below) films attempted to do the title character justice with differing degrees of success.  the dark nature of those movies, while appealing to fans (especially the violent War Zone) killed the overall box office dollars and I don’t quite see Marvel being happy with the money made from a “true to the spirit of the source material” movie right now when they could make crazy money with big, flashy pabulum in the PG and PG-13 end of the ratings.

Bearing that in mind, Thor is pretty much exactly what the fans SHOULD like.  Not that many of them will, mind you.  The changes that were made are of the nature of making the movie make sense as a 2 hour film rather than a comic that has been running, almost without break, in one form or another since the early 60’s.  But that never really stops those that call themselves “true fans” from complaining.  Let them complain.  As of this writing, the movie has made $119 million.  It dropped less in its second week that most of the other Marvel films, which means its overall performance is likely to be considered good by the studio.  I would expect its full first run total to just top $200 million, maybe as high as 250.  I would be surprised to see much more theatrically from that domestically.  Adding in the overseas numbers will make this comparable to Iron Man’s first 2 outings.

There are lots of great little visual and story touches that WILL please the fans.  For the reasons story-wise, you need only look to J. Michael Straczynski.  The popular Thor writer that was bumped from the book unfairly and stupidly is the co writer of this film and it shows.  There are lots of character moments and asides that are very much reminiscent of his all too short run on the comic. Visually, I was hard pressed to find something that WASN’T inspired by Walt Simonson’s epic run on the book from the 1980s.  Untill very recently, most of the visuals of the books was based on his template and the influence on the film is every bit as evident.  Most particularly in the costumes.

Most of the actors cast in the lead roles clearly know what kind of film they are in and have fun with it.  Chris Hemsworth does a fine job as the title Thunder God, but the real standouts here are Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston and the amazing Idris Elba as Heimdall.  One of the funniest, most unexpected moments in the film is his and he does not waste it. Just as an aside, if you are one of the people complaining about the casting or a black man in the part (or the asian cast as Hogun), you really are hard up for things to complain about, aren’t you?  The myth’s reference to Heimdall as the White God, is a metaphor for his purity of purpose and spirit, not his skin color.  Never mind this film is not based on the Norse myths.  It is based on a comic book about the norse myths that was, for most of its history, largely unconcerned with accuracy.  These are the same ignorant peasants that complained when Morgan Freeman was cast as Red in The Shawshank Redemption.  Get over it.  The actor chosen made this a better movie, in both cases and many others I could name.  As long as that criteria is met, the rest is geek fodder.  If in some way the skin color of an actor COULD worsen a movie, I have yet to see that movie.  There are lots of actors who ruin films just by showing up, but it never has anything to do with the color of their skin.

The action is pretty decent.  It’s funny, I have never thought of Thor as much of a hand to hand combat kind of guy, but he is without hammer for the bulk of the film (my only geek related gripe) and is kicking ass like a pro.  The Destroyer is a very well realized effect and is full of real menace and is good and scary for the film.  Hiddleston’s Loki is also very well done and a far more interesting character than I ever remember from the comics.  Another tip of the hat to Ray Stevenson as Volstagg.  While he is woefully underused in this film, he is a fun and interesting performer and he makes the most of it.

This was a fun film.  I want more.  Not just the Cap and Avengers movies that are already on the schedule, but more Thor films and more of the other properties they have.  Doctor Strange is one I hear bandied about.  But there are loads of smaller properties that would be piles of fun.

I cannot wait for Captain America (please don’t suck) and the Avengers.  This film did its main job pretty well, I think.  It makes me want more.

 

UPDATE:  AT 4 WEEKS IN RELEASE, THE FILMS TOTAL DOMESTIC GROSS IS AT JUST UNDER $160 MILLION (PER BOX OFFICE MOJO).  SO IT IS FALLING OFF A BIT.  THE $200 MILLION MAY NOT BE QUITE REACHED IN FIRST RUN.  DON’T WORRY THOUGH, THROW IN OVERSEAS AND VIDEO AND THIS FILM DOES JUST FINE.

 

 

 

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That which is not here yet, but soon will be…

I was looking through this month’s previews and found a few things of interest.

I tend to not bother much with monthly issues, as I really prefer to read all in one sitting, and they tend to clutter up the place.  So I generally get the hardcovers or the TPB instead.  As a result, there are a lot of books that I think about getting, sometimes I will pick up the first issue or 2 of the book or a particular storyline and then decide.  Will I get the trade or not?  Yes to all those pedants out there, I am the one killing the industry.  Nuts to you, I say.  I have a budget like most people.  And like most people, I spend what I can on fun things and that is all.  My wife would likely say I spend too much and she would be right.  But she has similar vices and pretty much lets me be, knowing that her next book binge may be right around the corner.

Using the hunt and peck method of finding reading material, Previews monthly is invaluable, that and Comic Shop News.  This month had a few things that caught my attention.  There are some interesting collections coming this summer and here are some that might be of interest.

Superman:  Grounded vol.1 HC on sale August 3rd 168 pages-$23

J. Michael Straczynski is an interesting writer, and when I heard that he would be on Superman’s eponymous title for a years worth of stories I was interested.  I picked up # 700 and liked it.  A lot.  Then things fell apart quickly.  It was dropped and I thought I would not bother with the trade or HC.  Then the news happened.  JMS was leaving the book after the success of Superman Earth One to focus on stand alone graphic novels.  I had read Earth one and liked it.  Was it all that new and groundbreaking?  No.  Sorry, but no.  It was a great start, but it was no game changer.  It was no Dark Knight or Watchmen.  So JMS “reassured” readers that the story he started will still play out with G. Willow Wilson co plotting and scripting.  Fanboy panic/betrayal/snotty indignation/I told you sos commence.  Well I’m not so sure that might not be exactly what is needed here.  Grounded looked like an interesting idea in plot form and a great opportunity to explore some new ideas and motivations for the most well-known and iconic figure in all of pop culture, if not all literature.  Where it failed, at least for me was the details, so I for one am looking forward to reading it in long form with a new addition to the writing staff and giving it another chance.  It was arguably one of the more scandalous stories behind the scenes in comics in 2010, so I will probably review it here after.

There are 2 big “events” coming this year, at DC it is Flashpoint and Marvel has Fear Itself and frankly up to this point, I have not had any interest in either.  Marvel’s entry into the summer events season looks like a bland idea that might actually succeed, if only due to some superior talent on the book, not least of which is Stuart Immonen.  Yes, sometimes great people involved can save a bad book.  Hopefully Marvel’s track record with “events” will improve.  They have failed in recent attempts as often as the have succeeded.  Scheduling problems and an unsatisfying ending (Civil War) to a ludicrous attempt to clean up continuity and fan gripes ((Secret Invasion) to the other end of the spectrum with more successful ideas like House of M and the various levels of quality of the Disassembled stories Marvel has limited success with the big events.  There were things in each of those to like and dislike, all of which are completely subjective, but fan reaction, as fickle as it can be, is a good predictor of what will work and what wont.  I’m betting Fear Itself ends up not being very interesting.

At DC they have had more success recently.  Like them or not the various Crisis series have been very popular and the rainbow war (Blackest Night and Brightest Day) actually made things happen to move the DCU forward.  Or at least as forward as you ever get in comics today.  War of the Green Lanterns will likely get very little attention over Flashpoint and I think that is where both companies will really fail.  Yet again.  Neither company has been able to translate big summer movies into more sales.  By more sales I really mean people who walk into a comic shop to by more than just whatever the immediate movie tie in is.  There really seems to be no effort anymore to bring in new fans on the inroads created by the new Batman, Iron Man, Superman and Spiderman films, to name just the biggies.  That is too bad.  It reveals a sense of accepting the futility of growing the medium.  But I think that will be a topic for another time.

Another collected edition worth looking out for later this summer is The Definitive Irredeemable vol. 1 HC.  This book collects the first twelve issues of one of the freshest new books in several years.  Mark Waid (Kingdom Come) brings another perspective to the archetype of the Super Hero.  The worlds greatest hero snaps and literally overnight, becomes the words greatest villan.  And that is before the first issue has even started.  This is not about just “how do we stop our friend?”  It is a story that reveals the fragile mind in anyone with people around them, expecting them to be a certain way, and delves into what can really happen when those expectations and the power of a God are placed on a man as fragile and insecure as any of us.  Part of me wonders what this would be like if it were at DC, but then reality kicks in.  It would never work.  The reader would always expect the story to be imaginary or the resolution to be the eventual revelation the character was under an evil influence.  As much as the fanboy in me wanted this to be a Superman story, it would never have been allowed, let alone worked.  Real story and character developement is only found in the creator owned works like this.  I have enjoyed this series a lot in TPB form, so I will not be getting the HC now, but anyone that has not read this or has only dipped their toes in this pond should jump in with both feet.  It is as good a work as Mark Waid has ever done.

Cover to the third TPB volume of Irredeemable

Coming next time, a trip back to the 1980s and one of the best books from the B&W explosion, just realeased in TPB form from IDW!

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