Thursday, January 29, 2009

Review: Pinning down Blue Beetle

Reading Blue Beetle #35 is, ultimately, a frustrating experience.

The issue kicks off a new storyline by Matthew Sturges, who officially took over from original writer John Rogers with issue #29, and introduces some of the fallout from Jaime Reyes' epic back-and-forth with would-be alien conquerors the Reach. Reprogrammed Beetle soldiers have come to Earth with a new mission and, they hope, will leave with a new leader. All Jaime and his friends want to do is go to their high school dance.

The storyline is interesting, it's fun and basically hits a lot of the beats that helped Blue Beetle find a loyal audience in the first place. Things move along at a nice clip while still finding the time to put new plot points in place, and the whole thing is peppered with the kind of casually snappy dialogue that has become a hallmark of this title. There are even some small steps toward development for some of the characters who've been orbiting a little further out on the edge of Blue Beetle's already excellent extended cast.

It's pretty clear Sturges has really hit his stride with the issue, bringing his own sensibility to the title and also tapping into the pure, playful fun that makes this comic so appealing. Blue Beetle #35 manages that magical little trick every comic tries to pull off — it leaves you looking forward to the next issue, and the issue after that.

And that's incredibly frustrating since the next issue is also the last issue for this consistenly solid, charming and deceptively complex series.

The character of Jaime Reyes as the Blue Beetle has built up some popularity, and it's certainly getting a push on the younger readers front with appearances in the new Batman: The Brave and The Bold and Tiny Titans comics, not to mention the B&B cartoon — hopefully this will mean some sort of life for the character after the series ends.

Still, it will be a shame because guest appearances or supporting roles in group books won't make up for the loss of a title that showcased a teen-aged superhero who acted first and foremost like a teenager. It can only be guessed that the end of Blue Beetle also means the end of the fantastic supporting characters, including Jaime's fully fleshed-out best friends, his supportive family, a sweet and sorcerous girlfriend, even his crazy roster of villains.

At least Blue Beetle #35 gives readers a next-to-last look at what made this book a favorite. Even without the work of usual artist Rafael Albuquerque — artists Carlo Barberi and Jacob Eguren alternate between dynamic and flat, particularly where facial features come into play — the issue has a sense of movement and place and, along with the scripting, puts you where you need to be; in the moment.

Unfortunately, Blue Beetle's moment is almost over, but regular readers should be sure to see it through to the end, and new readers should see what they've been missing by picking up the trades.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

'For the love of Crom, am I the only one here who wants to keep the U.S. technologically competitive?'

It always amazes me, but apparently there's a good portion of society that doesn't revolve around comics and instead would really like it if I'd take care of some of this other stuff instead.

I know!

I'm hoping to get something more than link-posts up soon ... but in the meantime here's a link to an Onion article about the disappointing lack of Conan knowledge among Obama's Cabinet. And since politics tends to be another obsession, this part in particular made me laugh:

"... he is expected to meet with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Friday to discuss Afghanistan. A holdover from the Bush administration, Gates told reporters he may have gotten off on the wrong foot with the new president, citing an occasion when Obama asked him what he knew about 1984's Secret Wars, a 12-issue limited Marvel release. Gates then handed a visibly confused Obama 1,400 classified pages on covert CIA operations in El Salvador."

Edit to add: Well, crap. I just noticed that Scott over at Hero Sandwich posted about this exact same Onion article a whole day before this one went up! I enjoy Scott's blog on a daily basis, so go check out his take on the whole Cobama article at his site. And hey, while you're at it, take a look at what happens when you give Conan the Obama treatment over at I Was Ben.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Suddenly ... The Molten Man!

... wait — who?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday Night Fights: Hulk and The Thing fight dirty!

So what do you do when you're the Hulk and giant monsters like the living mountain of mud named Taboo have invaded New York?

You throw Things at them!

Aah ... there's nothing quite like getting your hands dirty on a Friday Night.

Following a link? Read more Great Caesars Post here!

Panel from Monsters on the Prowl #1
Steve Niles, writer; Duncan Fegredo, artist; Moose Bauman, colorist

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Comics get love from the Louvre

In the whole "comics as art" debate, someone will usually throw in the idea that comics get more respect in countries that aren't the United States. And for the most part they're right, with other countries embracing comics in a wide range of genres aimed at a variety of age groups without the stigma we seem to hold onto here in the States.

We're getting better about it, though, and in spite of the reputation other countries have for acknowledging comics as a legitimate literary art form, it's still big news when one of the most respected museums in the world has an exhibit dedicated to them.

That's why I was happy to read about the Louvre exhibit, appropriately titled "Small Design: The Louvre Invites Comic Strip Art," which opened today. The show will include the work of five artists, with the Louvre used as the setting for each. I realize it doesn't do you much good unless you live in Paris, but I thought it was nice to see comics finding their way into one of the world's top museums (even if the curator seems to waffle between approval and dismissal — what's up with that, M. Douar?).

Like most comic fans, I've seen comic book work displayed in shops and even some galleries, but I don't think I've ever personally seen it done in an established art museum. Has anyone out there seen comics get their due from a major museum? Share your story in the comments!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You've just been vetoed!

Since I haven't actively collected them in years, I don't normally talk about the action figure side of the geek world. Leave it to our friends in that future-world called Japan to bring me back in.

People across the globe seem excited by the idea of the Obama presidency, which officially began yesterday, and I'm definitely no exception. (That wheezing sound you hear? That's me finally breathing again after holding my breath for eight years). Maybe more than ever people are daring to hope for the best, but the Japanese — man, those guys have some expectations that might be tough to pull off. Check out this toy company's site and be sure to keep scrolling down.

I, for one, am totally ready for an administration with kung-fu grip.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cover up: Brigade #1 (and a contest!)

Generally speaking, I try to keep things positive around here. Oh, that doesn't mean I avoid being critical — it just means I don't go out of my way to be a jerk about it. For the most part, I'd rather spend my energy talking about something I enjoy than flail around and alternate between crying at the top of my lungs or holding my breath until someone hands me a pacifier. Even though, as they say on Dagobah, hatin' is easy.

But when you come across Brigade #1 in your longbox, you gotta talk about that shit.

I must've blocked it out, because I was pretty surprised when I was flipping through my old issues and came across this stepchild:

Look, I know picking on Rob Liefeld isn't exactly original, but look at this thing. I mean, what the hell? OK, let's begin with a caveat: This cover (for a comic created, co-plotted and partially scripted by Liefeld himself) is from early in the Image poster-boy's career. At the time, Image was known for style more than substance, as well as a certain "look" that meant lots of gritted teeth, incomprehensible armor, endless pouches and as much cross-hatching as the page could handle. Oh, and characters that were suspiciously similar to other, already-popular characters from other companies (I'm surprised they didn't just introduce someone called "Molverine").

Liefeld had a lot to do with establishing the Image look, and what did it get us? Primarily an incredibly static cover, which isn't just missing a background but doesn't even have a background color. Aggravating this blanket of nothingness is a primary focus that is lost in the non-background because the character is colored almost completely in white and gray! What detail there is fades as we go from head to ... feet? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, witness the artist's famous fear of drawing anything below the ankle as our character seems to gently sink into the shapeless lump beneath him.

Speaking of lumps, let's talk about the floating heads. Now, the floating head thing has a long and distinguished past in the history of comic book covers. But these — they're just boring. Being ugly on top of that doesn't help. With the exception of the guy at top-right, there's virtually no character design and, like a sticker book, they faces look as if you could mismatch the hair and glasses until you came up with a combination you could laugh at with your friends.

Part of what's annoying about this cover — and covers like it — isn't so much the bad art. No, really. What annoys me most is the idea that it's just lazy. It looks like a half-done afterthought, where all the men are the same from the nose down (except for the big guy, who just came back from a cleaning at the dentist's) and the women have the same hair. (The big difference? Their bangs; except for the guy at the bottom-left, who has almost the same hair as the woman on the right). And I know I'm nitpicking now, and I know it's supposed to look as if the women have moist, voluptuous lips, but every time I look at them I think they're sticking their tongues out at me, as if to say, "Nyaaah! You own this comic now!"

Ugh, I could go on — from the gratutiously dripping fist to the muttonchops to the braided mullet — but I think I might snap because the more you look at it, the more questions you have. What's with the white spot on his leg? Where's his waist?

And most importantly: WHO WOULD WANT TO WIN THIS COVER?!

Phew. OK. I think I got that out of my system.

In spite of my descent into madness, you might've noticed I carefully avoided mentioning the names of any of the characters featured on this cover. There's a good reason for this; I want you to do it. As a matter of fact, I'll give this comic to the first person to correctly name all of the characters (no fair using Google, cheater); if more than one person gets it right, a "winner" will be picked at random. That's right; you could:


There's a bit of water damage at the bottom of the comic, but believe me, it doesn't make it any worse. So let's see some entries in the comments. Go on — I dare ya.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Night Fights: Colossal Boy also has a subscription to Low Rider magazine

Man, you DO NOT want to mess with Colossal Boy's ride:

Of course we all know, Spacebooger's other car is a meat wagon.

Following a link? Read more Great Caesar's Post right here!

Panel from The Legion of Super-Heroes #301
Paul Levitz, writer; Keith Giffen, penciller; Larry Mahlstedt, inker

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

WTF Wednesday: Superman's toughest game of rock-paper-scissors ever

As most comic fans know, Superman's invulnerability has been a slippery thing. Depending on who's writing him, what era he's from or even which Earth he calls home, Superman can sit and sip tea in the middle of an exploding star without burning his crumpets, or take a sock in the jaw hard enough to make little stars shoot out of it.

Over the years Superman's been battered, bruised, bloodied or just bemused by villains taking a poke at him. We even saw him beaten to death. (For a little while. Sorta. Mostly to let his Kryptonian locks grow out.)

In any case, there's no denying he can take some punishment. So whenever he's actually injured ... well, it can be a shock.

You seem a little snooty about your "invulnerable skin" considering you're holding a stump there, Lefty. Still, it can't get any worse than that, right?

Don't do it! Don't do it!!!

N-NO-OOO!!! And it's still smoldering!! BLARF!!!

Panels from The Adventures of Superman #439
John Byrne, writer; Jerry Ordway, penciller; John Beatty, inker

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cover up: Superman #416

Click to Fortress-size

I actually love the cover to Superman #416 because — at first glance — it's just so damn goofy. If you'll allow me to ooze out some fanboyishness here, that's the Superman I grew up on, and it's hard to get goofier than the chestnut of Old, Future Superman.

Just look at the guy! Apparently Old Superman still has time for crunches, but has decided to pass on the personal grooming. What's with long hair and beards being some sort of lazy visual shorthand for aging? The only thing I can think of is it being some sort of reference to Rip Van Winkle, but man, that's a stretch. Either that or elderly superheroes retire to become prospectors and cantankerous chuck wagon chefs called "Cooky."

In any case, my grandfather was in his 70s and he still shaved; c'mon, get it together, Clark.

In spite of the sheer gravitational pull of Superman's whiskers, though, this cover by Eduardo Barreto isn't bad. Visually it's fairly appealing and has depth that's conveyed with very simple points of reference. Superman is front and center, and in spite of his implied age he still cuts a very heroic, iconic figure. The folds and billows of his cape nicely cues the viewer to the icy, arctic winds blowing around the Fortress of Solitude, an idea bolstered by the dots of snow blurred across the scene.

The Fortress in the background helps give the image added that added depth I mentioned, with distance and scale suggested by the gigantic golden key that seems to dwarf Superman himself. (That key ... man, that's probably one of my favorite Superman icons. Ever.) It puts the rest of the scene in contrast, and really helps bring home the idea that — except for the bright spots of Superman and the products of his handiwork — things are getting cold and dark and lonely.

Which brings me to a final thought: It's a bit of a cliched metaphor, but I didn't get it until recently that this cover is really showing Superman in the winter of his life. After who knows how many years, things are wrapping up for the Man of Steel and ultimately this is a fairly meloncholy image. This cover is all about endings, from the chill of winter to the dark night sky, and, yes, Superman's long, gray hair and the passage of time it implies.

What do you think of this cover? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Well, blow me down - guess what I got!

A good friend of mine was kind enough to give me this for Christmas this year — expect Popeye content to increase by 3,000 percent.

(Yeah, I know these panels have made the rounds before, but now it's MINE.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Is this thing on?

Well ... hello, there.

As you may have noticed (or not), things have been pretty quiet around these parts. The one-two punch of the holidays and a two-week vacation gave me the chance to take a nice little bit of time off. Now I'm rested and ready to reacquaint myself with this electronic addiction. In other words, I missed you guys and I missed talking comics, so let's get going.

So where was I for the past two weeks? I was lucky enough to spend the time in New York City, and let me tell ya, that's a happening little town. My wife and I saw nearly every museum, landmark and tourist destination while we there, and discovered 14 days is just enough time to realize it's not enough time. Still, we saw almost everything on our list and had a great time. And in case you're wondering, yes, a certain store was on the list:

Sorry about the photo quality — I was a half-block away, for God's sake! Anyway, I'm happy to report that Midtown Comics is pretty much everything you'd feverishly imagine. Friendly staff, plenty of floppies and books in stock, a ton of back issues, toys and statues ... all in all, fairly high on the awesome scale.

Fortunately for me, my wife was patient enough to let me drag her to both Manhattan locations. If you don't live in the New York area and have to choose only one during a trip, I'd recommend the Times Square store. It's bigger (two floors!) and it felt like there was more to gawk at and geek out over. On the other hand, the cozier Lexington location was hiring at the time and it's easy to fantasize about working there.

Another stop on my NYC geek tour was the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, which is hosting exhibits of Harvey Comics art and the work of Ryan Dunlavey (who's probably best known as the co-creator and artist of Action Philosophers). It's really more a gallery than a museum at this point, but it's nice to see someone giving unfiltered attention to comic art and MoCCA does a good job of it. Both of the current exhibits are great, and the Harvey art is particularly fascinating. Both the process and craftsmanship that went into these comics are on display, and it's a treat to see it up close. If you have the chance, you should go check it out and give your support to an organization that's supporting an art form we all love.

And this has nothing to do with vacationing, but I was sorry to see veteran character actor Pat Hingle died Saturday due to a type of blood cancer. Hingle played Commissioner Gordon in the first four Batman movies, and had a long career that spanned film, television and the stage. He was 84.

Huh. Well, nothing like ending on a depressing note to alienate whatever readers are still here, right? Again, thanks for your patience, and thanks for reading! As always, I appreciate your comments, and thanks for the e-mails asking just where the hell I was. Things will be getting back into the usual rhythm soon — I swear!