Posted by: erikmona | March 6, 2014

Lost in the Jungle

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Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Jungle-themed comics from the Golden Age. While there are a ton of really cool genre elements like monsters, lost cities, evil wizards, and the like, the stories are very definitely of a different era. Virtually every story contains brutally racist depictions of natives that are not only pretty queasy by today’s standards, but should have been considered shameful even when they were originally published.

The fellow pictured above, Kaanga, is one of the worst offenders. The main feature in Jungle Comics, this guy himself is just a standard Tarzan clone. But his enemies are almost all natives (or the very welcome [white, of course] mad scientist), and his arch enemy is a homeless Black American criminal who moves to Africa to run a tribe there. He wears a tophat and seems like his comes from a minstrel show.

Hey, kids, comics!

Posted by: erikmona | March 5, 2014

More to Come Soon…

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My God, it’s been over a year since I posted here.

Anyone still out there?

 

Posted by: erikmona | December 24, 2012

A Very Gainsbourg Christmas (Year 7)

serge-gainsbourg

2012 has thus far proven to be marginally better than the Mayans predicted. My company, Paizo Publishing, continues to kick ass with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, maintaining the number one sales spot for the entire year and winning a prestigious award for “Best Publisher” at the annual Gen Con Game Fair. All that financial success and fan support has led to more accolades and a better standard of living for myself and my employees, but it’s also spawned a ton of new work and new challenges. I tend to thrive in this environment, but it also has an addictive element to it that can erase and more or less destroy the parts of life not directly tied up with business. I’ve read fewer than 12 books this year, many of my friendships and personal relationships have atrophied beyond repair, and I don’t get as much sleep as I should or need to. I’ve written one chapter of a novel I laughingly told my editor I thought I could finish by June. For the tenth consecutive year I’ve been able to start the year saying “I cannot imagine being busier than I am right now,” and end the year much, much, much busier than that.

And as much as that sounds like bitching, I’m thrilled to be where I am career-wise. I love my job and the people I work with, and if I could have it any other way, I’m not sure I would. This is the life that I’ve chosen, and I’m living it well, even if at a not insubstantial cost to whatever remains of my personal life. My girlfriend, Danica, and my pug, Ptolemy, keep me as sane as possible. Both are cute, loyal, and fun, and only one of them occasionally pisses on the apartment floor.

Somehow, although so much has changed for me in the last seven years, I’ve always managed to hold tight to one holiday tradition (no doubt made easier by a self-enforced personal exile away from work to the ancestral homeland of Edina, Minnesota to visit immediate family). I speak, of course, of the annual Serge Gainsbourg Christmas Gift here on my blog.

I don’t know most of you personally. I don’t have enough cash to get you each something awesome (or even something that kind of sucks), but I feel it’s my solemn duty to pay back some of the support readers have given me, either by buying products I’ve written or published or simply be checking out my blog, following my Facebook fan page, or just self-Googling a name eerily similar to mine (hi!). And the best way I’ve found to do that, nay, the only way I’ve found to do that, is through the gift of music.

I am an audiophile. I love all sorts of music, the quirkier the better. I love old music, new music, sad music, fun music, you name it. Mostly, I love the weird stuff, the clever stuff, the obscure stuff most of you have probably never heard of. I’m the guy at the karaoke party flipping through the mainstream song book and finding exactly nothing I know well enough to perform, even though my iTunes is crammed with 10,000 songs. My taste is, very likely, not your taste. But it is pretty well refined, and a lot of it centers on Serge Gainsbourg.

Due to obsessive listening to 60s Ye-Ye music, my high school French is getting a bit better, and I find myself “accidentally” understanding lyrics in beloved French songs more and more with each passing year. One of these days I’ll take a class to encourage the language to click back for real, but for now I’m content to half-ass it and double-check lyrics online when I can’t figure them out via the headphones. You see, I love French music most of all, and when you talk about French music, you’re going to be spending a lot of time talking about Serge Gainsbourg.

I discovered Gainsbourg about ten years ago thanks to UK producer Andy Votel, whose Finders Keepers label is probably my favorite purveyor of weird music in the universe. I was impressed by Votel’s psych-folk compilation Folk is Not a Four Letter Word, an absolutely essential cornerstone of any musical journey into the weird. Back in the day (when the label itself had only a half-dozen releases under their hood), they had an “A to Z” of great off-beat music, much of it discovered crate diving in old record shops. Gainsbourg was much more popular than most of the gone-and-forgotten folkies and rockers on that list (the man is a national treasure in France, and is probably one of the best-known French celebrities in America, if only because he fucked Brigitte Bardot, the actual best-known French celebrity in America), but his influence on the kind of music I like is so epic that he was all over that list of recommendations. I immediately placed an order for his opus, “Histoire de Melody Nelson,” as well as the Votel-suggested “Je T’Aime…Mon Non Plus” (“I love you, me neither”), which is named after the one song of his that ever charted in the United States, a breathy, over-sexed ode to his young girlfriend, the actress Jane Birkin (and the inspiration for Melody Nelson herself).

Both albums are exceptional, and among my favorites. Melody Nelson speaks for itself. Even if you don’t understand a lick of French, any person who considers him or herself interested in music needs to give it a serious listen, and should probably own a copy. Honestly, this is probably pointless advice, because owning Melody Nelson is a prerequisite for having good taste in music, period. I mean seriously. If the bass-playing on virtually every track of the concept album doesn’t immediately get you tapping your feet and thinking about sex, you likely have bad taste, or perhaps no pulse. In that case, I can’t help you. BUT I WILL PROVIDE ONE MORE LINK.

Ahem. Melody Nelson out of the way, let’s turn our attention this Christmas to the title track on “Je T’Aime,” which I remarkably haven’t ever posted during one of these holiday extravaganzas. If it sounds like Serge and Jane are having sex while singing this song, well, they definitely were, at least in the general sense. Gainsbourg had previously recorded an unreleased version of this song with Bardot, and while the legendarily beautiful actress’s French is far better than Birkin’s, Serge himself didn’t seem that into it, like he was recording the tune for a paycheck. In this version it’s clear it’s for real. As with Whitney Houston, you can definitely tell that he wants to “fuck her.”

From the virtually mainstream, we take a detour into the strange world of “L’Homme a Tete de Chou,” a 1978 concept album that’s probably the most similar to Melody Nelson in all of Gainsbourg’s oeuvre. As in his famous album from earlier in the decade, this one is likewise about an older man falling in love with a young muse after a chance encounter. Only this time, it’s not a plane crash that does in his lover, but, well… ok, so he kills her. Anyway, here’s my favorite track from the album.

Another amazing song from that record is “Ma Lou Marilou”, among Gainsbourg’s first dabbles in reggae. He would go on to record two reggae albums in Jamaica (with Bob Marley’s back-up band, no less), but this was pretty early on in his experimentation. From the video below, you can already see that Serge is starting to let himself go physically. Never a super-handsome man, he originally made up for it with style, panache, and talent that allowed him to bed some of France’s hottest women. But it wouldn’t last forever. Signs of his eventual slide into alcoholism (but never irrelevance!) can be seen here, but hey, cool song.

Speaking of Serge’s reggae turn, here’s probably his most famous tune in the style (complete with backing vocals by Rita Marley). Never one to shy away from controversy, Serge decided to title his reggae album after a “remix” of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. To say people freaked out is an understatement. French veterans were super, super, super pissed off about this, and equated it to blasphemy against the state. Judge for yourself.

Serge was always sniffing out new genres of music. He started with traditional French chanson (think “lounge music”), and then went on to pop, psych, and reggae. Eventually, of course, that means he also dabbled in really, really shitty early 80s proto-rap. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Danica hates this song more than maybe any other in my collection, but it’s probably a testament to my sick love of Gainsbourg that I actually kind of like it, despite the terrible (and I mean TERRIBLE) rapping. Something about that guitar lick really grabs me. That said, this video, featuring a fat, drunk, run-down Serge sitting in an eight-dollar Toyota is, with Melody Nelson, a great bookend on Gainsbourg’s career. Somewhere between the early 70s and the mid-80s, Gainsbourg went from a Rolls Royce and Jane Birkin to sitting alone in this brown piece of shit trawling the streets of New York for some hideous tail. Yeah, this sort of sucks, but many of you have been bad this year, and deserve a lump of coal in your stockings. But again, that guitar lick. Maybe there’s a diamond in that coal after all?

And with that, we’re done for another year. Bon Noel, everyone!

Posted by: erikmona | February 27, 2012

My Adult Fantasy Collection

Here’s hoping “Adult Fantasy” racks up my google rating!

Anyway, I recently reorganized my bookshelf, and I decided to add a list of my in-progress collection of Lin Carter’s Ballantine Adult Fantasy book line. That’s Lin up there with the sweet goblet. I would have liked to have hung out with him at a convention, but alas, he’s no longer with us. When I was first fishing around a Seattle used bookstore during what turned out to be the first major paperback purchase of my collection, I picked up several books from this famous series. They’re known for their beautiful covers, and Carter’s editorial vision was to set up a new “canon” of modern fantasy. I’ve added to the collection here and there over the years, and here’s the list as it stands as of today. One day, I hope to complete the set and read all of them, but that’s essentially the quest of a lifetime.

Anderson, Poul: Hrolf Kraki’s Saga
Bok, Hannes: Beyond the Golden Stair
Bok, Hannes: The Sorcerer’s Ship
Cabell, James Branch: Figures of Earth
Cabell, James Branch: The Cream of the Jest
Cabell, James Branch: The Silver Stallion
Carter, Lin: New Worlds for Old
Carter, Lin: The Young Magicians
Carter, Lin: Dragons, Elves and Heroes
Chant, Joy: Red Moon and Black Mountain
DeCamp & Pratt: Land of Unreason
Dunsany, Lord: The Charwoman’s Shadow
Dunsany, Lord: The King of Elfland’s Daughter
Eddison, E.R.: Mistress of Mistresses
Hodgens, Richard: Orlando Furioso
Hyne, C. J. Cutliffe: The Lost Continent
Lindsay, David: A Voyage to Arcturus
Morris, William: The Wood Beyond the World
Morris, William: The Water of the Wondrous Isles
Smith, Clark Ashton: Hyperboria
Smith, Clark Ashton: Xiccarph
Smith, Clark Ashton: Zothique
Walton, Evangeline: The Island of the Mighty
Posted by: erikmona | February 1, 2012

Stalled Out on the New 52

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As you’ve no doubt noticed over the last several months, I fell short of my goal of reviewing all 52 of DC’s “New 52″ titles. I underestimated the time it would take to go through each and every one of them, and I grossly overestimated the amount of free time I had to write multiple daily essays.

So yeah, sorry about that.

I AM still reading all 52 titles, and in fact plan to go to the comic store to pick up this week’s slew of #5’s in the next hour. I’m still well behind where I should be (even _reading_ this many comics takes longer than I’d anticipated), but I’ve lately been churning my way through the stack of unread comics, and have made my way up to (God help me) Catwoman. I’m going alphabetically.

This is just too many comics for any one man to read, so I plan on culling the list from 52 to something more manageable shortly. I’d like to get “caught up” to the present with all titles before I decide what to cut, but the culling will begin with my very next trip to the shop.

Things look really, really bad for Blackhawks (my vote for the comic I care about least in the entire lineup), Batman: The Dark Knight (easily the worst of the Bat-comics, with decent art but absolutely horrible storytelling), and Captain Atom (which is really, really awful).

So far (alphabetically speaking), safe comics include Action (one of my favorites), All-Star Western (likewise excellent), Animal Man (probably my favorite of the entire line), Batman (maybe the best of the Bat-books), Batman & Robin (passable), Batgirl (great art, ok story), Batwoman (GREAT), Birds of Prey (fun, but needs to get _moving_ shortly), and Blue Beetle (slightly better than average).

I’ve got the rest of Deathstroke to read tonight, but unless that one really blows me away, it’s going to take a lot to convince me that it is anything other than a brainless book for simpletons. As I do not fancy myself a simpleton, I think I’ll be dropping it.

I plan to drop updates here a bit more regularly as I churn my way through the pile.

Onward!

Posted by: erikmona | October 18, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 36: Nightwing #1

Nightwing #1
Writer: Kyle Higgins
Artist: Eddy Barrows

I lost track of Nightwing after I stopped reading New Teen Titans in the 1980s. I fondly (but indistinctly) remember an arc in the 1990s in which Nightwing (the original Robin, Dick Grayson) filled in for Batman after the big Zero Hour crossover event, but it was a short-term thing. Nightwing had his own comic that I picked up here and there during some mega-crossover, but as it was set in some town called “Blüdhaven” I immediately deemed it worthless of further attention.

This new Nightwing comic returns the character to his proper roots in Gotham City. Higgins uses captions to let Nightwing narrate his own story, which is a mostly upbeat affair about returning to Gotham after another stint replacing Bruce Wayne as Batman. I didn’t read any of those comics (which were apparently good and kind of a big deal), but the story Higgins told didn’t punish me for it. We get a sense that Nightwing matured during the experience, and that he has greater confidence in himself and his ability to handle whatever life throws at him.

And by life, I mean “Gotham”. For all its quirks and weirdness, Nightwing seems to respect the city almost as an sentient opponent, always ready to twist the things you love against you, to push you down when you’re feeling confident. You get a sense that he’s playing chess against the city itself. It’s a neat take on the character’s personality and his place in the city.

Higgins brings us back to the beginning with Nightwing by bringing the circus back to town. Way back when Robin was first introduced in 1940 his parents, the “Flying Graysons,” were killed by the mafia, who were trying to extort money from the circus. (Robin, by the way, has a ghoulishly similar origin to Deadman…) Dick Grayson was a member of that trapeze family team, and when Dick visits his old friends under the big top, he gets back on the swings and puts on a show. Eddy Barrows does an excellent job of emphasizing Nightwing’s acrobatic skills and grace with cool illustrations of flips and crazy tumbles throughout the issue, adding more distinction between Nightwing and Batman.

A fun scene about halfway through the book gives us Grayson’s own thoughts about the differences between himself and the Dark Knight. Dick prefers to keep an apartment in the grittier sections of the city he is trying to clean up, whereas Batman lives in a posh neighborhood or in the penthouses of skyscrapers. Grayson isn’t above pigging out on junk food, and as he picks up his costume off the floor, he adds “costume display” to the list of differences. It’s an amusing turn in the script that’s immediately followed by a circus scene featuring a white-faced clown complaining to management about having to wear a green wig at a Gotham City stop. Good stuff.

At the end of the comic, just when Nightwing seems to have outmaneuvered Gotham City and gotten some joy out of reconnecting to his past, a ninja-suited superspy acrobat guy with Wolverine claws pops out of nowhere and starts going to town on Dick Grayson. While the bad guy literally slices through two cops’ chests, necks, and faces (in one move) Dick ducks into an alley and dons his Nightwing costume. It really, really, really sucks to be a cop in the New DCU. When I’m done with my reviews, I’m going to go back over them just to see how many police officers were murdered, and I’m willing to bet the number will be higher than a dozen, and that’s not counting the entire precinct that were dismembered and beheaded in Batwing.

So Nightwing steps out of the alley, and the super-ninja is all “that idiot Dick Grayson is lucky to have a super-protector like you, Nightwing!” Which suggests that maybe the reason this guy wears glowing goggles is that he is OBVIOUSLY BLIND. Nighting, understandably, says “hey, wait, this Grayson guy is innocent!” The bad guy then says (and this one is an actual quote) “Grayson isn’t innocent. Dick Grayson is the fiercest killer in all of Gotham, and he doesn’t even know it.”

Is this a reference to the mystery story in Batman #1? I certainly hope so, as it would be interesting to see a major event in one of these books have an echo in another. So far the Batman books don’t have much cross-title continuity, and while that is probably very good for the readability of the comics on a one-by-one basis (and very much in the spirit of the reader-friendly relaunch), it’s a bit implausible that Grayson could be a stone-cold (albeit subconscious) murderer in one comic and not have it affect the other. Or maybe there’s something entirely different going on in both comics, and we’ll just have to see.

Based on the quality of the first issue, I’m willing to stick around to find out what happens next. Higgins has presented a lead character I’m interested in learning more about, and Barrows draws it in pretty pictures that are fun to look at.

Status: Safe.

Posted by: erikmona | October 12, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 35: Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Legion of Super-Heroes #1
Writer: Paul Levitz
Artist: Francis Portela

Fans love the Legion of Super-Heroes because of its complexity. It is the most soap-operaesque of DC’s properties, with multiple generations of characters, continuity built from more than 50 years of publishing, and lots and lots of characters. I suspect because past “reboot” events like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour basically wrecked the Legion and forced reboots to account for editorial changes, the Legion has been spared by the same hand that let the Batman and Green Lantern titles keep their precious, precious continuity. So what we have with Legion of Super-Heroes #1 is more of a fresh start than a pure reboot.

The Green Lantern titles have, to my great surprise, managed to avoid getting bogged down in story threads that the audience DC is hoping to attract with the New 52 weren’t around to read, and don’t understand. The Batman titles have weathered it well because, well, Batman never really changes much. Legion Lost, this book’s companion volume from Week Two, manages to sidestep the issue by shunting the team into a different time, focusing on immediate danger (albeit doing so mostly by standing around and talking).

Legion of Super-Heroes takes the least successful approach so far, stepping directly into multiple references to past storylines. The result is a comic that feels like “just another issue” of a previous series and offers few footholds for new readers. The Legion is a great property with lots of cool characters and great potential. But this is a shoddy way to introduce it.

The story opens strong with Chameleon Boy leading a field mission with new recruits Dragonwing and Chemical Kid, as well as veterans Phantom Girl and Ultra-Boy (perhaps my personal favorite Legionnaire). They’re on a watch planet along the border of space controlled by the alien Dominators, with whom the Federation has had a tenuous peace for the last five years. Contact recently shut down, and the team has come to investigate if there is a serious problem or if it is simply a communications malfunction.

Levitz does a nice job showing the difference in experience between the veterans and the rookies. Simple text boxes explain each Legionnaire’s code name, real name, home world, and powers, a device that will come in handy as the cast balloons out of control in the next few pages.

Then we get a one-page scene on the ship that dispatched the Legionnairres, where Gim Allon (AKA Colossal Boy) tells his superior in the fleet that he is glad he is not on the field mission, and that his place is in the military. At least, I think this scene is supposed to take place on the ship that dispatched the Legion’s landing pods on Page 1. It’s definitely hovering above the same purple planet. And it makes sense that their conversation would begin “Annoyed at not going with them, Allon?” if “them” equals “your Legion buddies we just shot out the torpedo bays,” but there’s one problem. The ship looks absoltuely nothing like the ship on Page 1. Totally different hull, totally different fins, the works. Either artist Francis Portella totally blew his reading of the script or I am not following what’s going on. Either way kind of sucks.

Then we’re back down to the planet. Chameleon Boy turns into a bug and flies into the military base (where everything seems normal). He notices reference to orders from “Renegade,” but a guard tries to swat him.

Then we cut to Legion HQ, where things start to get really confusing. We see Daxamite Superman clone Mon-El moving about giant gold statues of various dead Legionnaires (a long-running element of the series). With statues added for the characters in Legion Lost, whom these Legionnaires believe are dead, the memorial hall is getting crowded.

Braniac 5 stops by, and asks Mon-El “Perhaps Niedrigh should be less prominently displayed?” Mon-El says “He was a true Legionnaire at the end, Brainy.”

Erik says “Who the hell is Niedrigh? Thanks for providing no context whatsoever, Comic. Geez!”

Then we get a mostly nice-looking two-page spread splash page of Mon-El and Brainiac 5 receiving reports from three 4 or 5-person field teams. These include teams led by Cosmic Boy, Element Lad, and Dream Girl, any one of which would make an interesting cast for a Legion of Super-Heroes comic. All in all, Levitz uses captions to introduce FIFTEEN Legionnaires, including a few who barely even speak. Add in six Legionnaires who do not get intro boxes, and we’re talking about a comic with a cast of 21 protagonists. That’s pretty absurd, and is not necessary to write a good Legion comic. Even if Levitz needed to have a team this large, it would have been a far better introduction to focus simply on the field team in the first scene, with perhaps a glimpse at HQ and all the complexity of the larger team, but with the focus on only a handful of characters. I mean, what’s the point of including an intro box for Comet Queen, for example, who appears in one panel and says “All aglow, glistening, leader, sir!”

The big splash page includes a couple of references to old continuity with references to “Saturn Queen’s crowd” and the “Flashpoint Effect,” two elements from the previous crossover event that was supposed to wrap up the old continuity.

Then we get a scene with Mon-El looking at his hand and saying “I’m starting to miss the Lantern ring… being in two paces at once was confusing, but feels like it might be useful now, trying to carry on after so much.” This is a refence, I think, to either Brightest Day or Blackest Night, another huge mega-crossover emblematic of the worst excesses of extinction-era DCU, in which pretty much every superhero got to be some kind of colored lantern. That’s references to three out-of-continuity crossover events in three pages, and the issue is not even done serving up confusing shit with no reference points for new readers.

After a short interlude advancing the field team story, we’re back at Legion HQ with a scene featuring the most also-ran of the various teams: Dream Girl, Star Boy, Harmonia, and new recruit Glorith, who seems like a huge, mopey loser. She keeps carping on about the death of some character named Oaa that we’ve never met (some previous crossover, I presume). Everyone is broken up about this character’s death, but we don’t get a flashback or even an anecdote to help us understand who this person was or why we should care. Glorith does mope about it a lot, though. Loser.

Also, what’s up with DC editorial letting through a character whose name is one “a” away from the Green Lantern homeworld? Dumb.

Then we’re back to the field team, who discover that the soldiers are transmitting information, presumably to the Dominators. The Legion attacks, and sends Ultra-Boy to break the modification to the transmitting tower. This he does, only to be punched and thrown back dozens of feet by a human-looking guy in a blue outfit and a crewcut. Ultra-Boy (using super-strength) throws a boulder at the guy who punched him. The guy punches through it with a “THOOM” and Chameleon Boy says “A DAXAMITE?!”

Oof. While Levitz’s script did somewhat clumsily say that Mon-El, as a Daxamite, was the most powerful member of the Legion earlier in the comic, it might be asking a lot for new readers to have picked up on that for the last panel to have the sort of resonance that Levitz wants it to. Most readers probably aren’t going to understand the enormity of what’s going on, that the Legion is basically facing a Superman-level threat. Indeed, all we’ve really seen Mon-El do is move a statue, not exactly that impressive.

And really, how does Chameleon Boy know the guy is a Daxamite? He doesn’t look like Mon-El. We don’t see him fly. He doesn’t use heat-vision, or anything. He’s got a weird crew-cut that looks like neither Mon-El or Superman. So why does Chameleon Boy jump to that conclusion? Does he say that every time he faces a foe that can break a big rock? “A DAXAMITE!” he cries. “No, Chameleon Boy,” his teammates sigh, “that’s just water erosion.”

I do like the Legion. I want the main Legion comic to be good. This issue didn’t suck as an average middle-run Legion comic, so all is not lost. But it was a really bad introduction to the Legion, and a really bad first issue by almost any measure.

Status: We’ll See.

Posted by: erikmona | October 10, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 34: Green Lantern Corps #1

Green Lantern Corps #1
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Fernando Pasarin

I’ve been a bit harsh on the Green Lantern family of titles, mostly because (rightly or wrongly) I judged them from afar as representative of the worst excesses of DC’s publishing strategy. Rife with gimmicks. Thick with obscure and off-putting continuity. Exploited beyond recognition and drained of the iconic value that made them interesting in the first place. DC’s decision not to reboot Green Lantern seemed to fly in the face of what I’d looked for in the New 52: a fresh start, free of some of the worst mistakes of the last decade.

Geoff Johns answered my concerns in Green Lantern #1 with a story that was, if not exactly unburdened by past continuity, at least not dragged down by it. The issue seemed to introduce a “new normal’ for the title, with Hal Jordan exiled on Earth without a ring and his arch-villain Sinestro back as a member-in-good-standing with the Green Lantern Corps. The story was easy to jump into for new readers, but there was a certain cheapness to it that undermined its value as a “true reboot” of the series, even if that’s not really what they were going for. Green Lantern #1 introduced a new normal, but it was so transparently temporary that Johns started undoing it by the final splash page. It’s a cool Green Lantern story, and it might be good for an arc, but Hal Jordan is going to end up back as the Green Lantern of Earth. In that way Green Lantern #1 isn’t a great introduction to the themes of the whole series. It’s just another Green Lantern story. A fun story. An accessible story. But just another story.

By contrast, Green Lantern Corps #1 isn’t quite as fun of a story, but it does an excellent job of introducing its lead characters, as well as the concepts and themes of the series as a whole.

The comic opens shortly after a battle in Space Sector 3599, where two alien Green Lanterns are finishing up the details after arresting a boastful alien brute. An invisible creature kills the captive alien, and then gruesomely murders the two Green Lanterns. Within the first three pages of this comic, we see one Green Lantern beheaded, and another sliced in half, complete with red guts hanging out and a vacant, open-eyed expression. DC seems uniformly committed to pushing the envelope with violence, even on titles that don’t really call for it. You expect to see police officers shot in the face in a comic like Batgirl (I guess), but you don’t really expect to see dismemberments in comics like Static Shock or Green Lantern Corps. Or at least you didn’t used to. Progress! (?)

This cuts to a nice pair of scenes featuring second-tier Earth Green Lanterns Guy Gardner and John Stewart. Guy tries awkwardly to get a job as a high school football coach, while fending off fans and the knowledge that he can never really balance normal life with his galactic responsibilities. Stewart tries to bring the same inflexible ideals to skyscraper architecture that he does to being a space cop, with disastrous results given the corrupt local government. Both fly up and have a seat on a satellite, and have a conversation that confirms their suspicions that they will never fit in on Earth.

So instead they decide to go to Oa, to spend some time patrolling space for the Green Lantern Corps. This puts them on the trail of the mysterious killer from the first scene, who has now mopped up a total of six Lanterns. Guy and John gather a group of five weird alien Green Lanterns, and they are off to the drained water world of Nerro for a confrontation with the villain.

It’s straightforward and there’s not much “new” to this comic (beyond gruesome violence), but it delivers exactly what it says on the cover, contains two amusing Green Lantern leading men with a lot of fans (and with strong personalities enhanced by Tomasi’s script and Pasarin’s facial expressions), and looks very, very nice.

Ultimately, I’m not sure if I’m all that interested in the stories this comic is going to tell, but the first issue was fun to read and I’m willing to stick around for a few more months to see what they’re going to do with this book.

Status: We’ll See.

Posted by: erikmona | October 7, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 33: DC Universe Presents: Deadman #1

DC Universe Presents: Deadman #1
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Bernard Chang

I was always a Marvel fan as a kid until one day, while hanging out at a baseball card convention where my dad was selling cards, I noticed a box of old comics sticking out from under a dealer’s booth. I bought all the issues I could afford, and ended up getting a handful of The Brave & The Bold comics from the late 1970s featuring Batman team-up lead stories padded with classic DC reprints featuring all kinds of obscure characters. Sure, Batman was cool, but I immediately fell in love with characters like the Manhunter and the Metal Men. These stories showed me the potential of some of DC’s “lesser” characters, and gave me my first real sense of the “DC Universe” beyond the Super-Friends and the Justice League (which kinda sucked in the 80s). I was immediately hooked.

Somewhere along the way, anthology titles disappeared from the DC offerings. When I saw DC Universe Presents on the list of the New 52, I hoped that it would be an anthology title like those old The Brave & The Bolds. My hopes didn’t quite pan out. With only one feature story, DC Universe Presents isn’t an anthology title at all. It’s actually more like the old “Showcase” title, which rotated through minor characters in an attempt to spawn new hits or try out quirky concepts that couldn’t hold down their own monthly series. With the first feature being Deadman, a perfect example of the kind of lower-tier character that filled those anthology titles, I had high hopes that this comic would provide something different.

What we get is a new presentation of Deadman’s origin, followed by an interesting new development for the character’s present. While not quite as different thematically as I might have hoped, Jenkins deserves credit for writing a Deadman story that is both a standard origin recap and new spin at the same time.

The issue opens with Deadman recounting a doomed motorcycle stunt attempted by a daredevil named Albert “Albatross” Albertson whom Deadman has inhabited like a ghost. The stuntman has a deathwish because of his stupid name, and as he almost dies as a result of a failed stunt, Deadman recounts his own origin. He was once circus trapeze artist Boston Brand. The star of the show, Brand was full of himself, paranoid of others, and a dick to his fellow circus performers. One day an assassin shot him from the crowd. As he fell to the ground, his spirit left his body and appeared at the edge of a giant rock balanced on a tiny fulcrum, in the presence of the Hindu goddess Rama.

Rama points to a shadowy figure at the far edge of the rock, saying that he is the man Boston Brand must become. To do so he will live the lives of many others in need, like stepping stones on the path to enlightenment. With each life, he takes a step toward the fulcrum, as does the distant figure. When the two embrace at the center, Brand will have found enlightenment, and can pass on to the next stage of existence. If he fails, he will roam the world forever as a ghost.

While I can’t say I’m a huge fan of artist Bernard Change’s actual drawing style, he has a very strong sense of composition that makes the giant fulcrum scene work well. His depiction of Rama is graceful and powerful at the same time, and the opening splash page, depicting Brand’s dead body slamming into the ground under the Big Top, his soul splashing through the ether like water to emerge on some distant shore at the feet of Rama, is wonderfully done.

Brand then takes us to the present, to the next man he will be forced to become. This is Johnny, a legless veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan who is the guilt-ridden sole survivor of his defeated unit. Johnny hasn’t coped well with his return to civilian life, and still wears his uniform and hates himself for not dying, too.

Deadman looks down on the sleeping Johnny, promising that he will return once he has finished an important mission. This takes him to a carnival and a psychic named Rose, a former colleage from Boston Brand’s old circus. Having possessed the form of a little girl, Boston confronts Rose and attempts to ask her for assistance, but the psychic freaks out and runs away. This leads to a fun scene were Boston jumps from person to person along her path as he attempts to convince her that it is really him. Once convinced, Rose refuses to help, because as a mortal Boston was a jerk.

Then Deadman, saying he has no feelings anymore (but clearly feeling sorry for himself) recounts some of his past jobs, and why it isn’t as fun as it used to be. This starts with stories of inhabiting superspies and criminals, gamblers, geniuses, and stuntmen. Then he tells of much less glamorous lives, like a priest questioning his faith, an ER doctor whose surgeries decide who lives and dies, a dying old man too proud to call his only son, and so on.

Finally, Deadman inhabits Johnny. Tired of his ordeal and frustrated that the distant Rama always summons him and never the other way around, Deadman makes Johnny put a gun to his head with the intention of suicide. This summons Rama to his side.

“You’re probably wondering why I asked you here,” he says to the goddess with a gun to his head. We’re wondering, too, but we won’t get to find out until the next issue.

Jenkins and Chang succeed in the primary mission of the New 52 by creating a compelling origin story with a story about the present day with a new twist on Deadman—that of him questioning his patron, his missions, and his effectiveness, while at the same time taking matters into his own hands by attempting to turn the tables on Rama.

There’s obviously a lot of story potential with a character like Deadman, and my main question at this point is why they didn’t just give the character his own series for real, and delve the DC coffers for even more obscure fodder. That would be something to see.

Status: Safe.

Posted by: erikmona | October 5, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 32: Catwoman #1

Catwoman #1
Writer: Judd Winick
Artist: Guillem March

Jesus Christ, where to begin? This disaster of a comic has already been savaged all over the internet for being a paper-thin piece of exploitative trash, so it should come as little surprise that I thought Catwoman #1 was garbage. A lot of the reviews I’ve read online (and it was hard to avoid them, as this book and the same week’s Red Hood and the Outlaws caused immediate controversy) have condemned the book for its exploitation or its undermining of the Catwoman character. That’s all completely valid, but even beyond those elements the issue has a host of technical problems worthy of comment.

As to the characterization element, I understand that Catwoman has emerged as a less exploitative character than the Jim Balent Torpedo-Titted fetish queen from the 90s, but I never read any of the more modern take, so that’s the version of the character I’m most familiar with. This issue is probably the first Catwoman story I’ve ever read since she got the black rubber bodysuit with the goggles. So while I guess I sympathize for the audience pining for a more complex version of the character based on recent portrayals, you’ve got to go into a reboot with your eyes open and understand that certain elements of a character are going to change. That’s a given.

It’s clear that DC is trying to produce a wide variety of comics for a wide variety of readers with the New 52, and by a mathematical analysis, two comics out of 52 being cheesecake titles isn’t really that egregious, in my view (I’m also counting Week Four’s Voodoo, which I’ll get to eventually). It’s less than 5% of the total offerings of the full editorial slate. I get that a lot of people don’t like cheesecake comics, but it’s clear that they’re popular and they have an audience, so it’s probably naive to assume they wouldn’t try at least a couple of them. And given Catwoman’s publishing history, as well as the raw sex appeal of the character in virtually every media expression from Julie Newmar to Michelle Pfieffer to Halle Berry, Catwoman is the obvious choice.

But even if you accept that the presence of cheesecake comics is a given (and a lot of people don’t), Catwoman #1 is a pretty shit cheesecake comic that devolves into the equivalent of officially sanctioned slash fiction. The book is rated T+, but by the time you get to the last page you’ll think it should have been rated TMI.

The story opens on Catwoman’s giant tits in a big red bra. We see her tits pull on her costume and her sharp-fingered gloves. Then her tits grab her cell phone. Finally, a little bit of one of her tits grabs her pet cats. We don’t see all of Catwoman’s face or any shot of her complete body, just close-ups on her boobs completely disassociated from the character. It’s attention-grabbing, to be sure, but unless you are the kind of kid (or man-child) who beats off to his DC comics, the message it sends is: “What you are about to read is not likely to be heavy on story. Also, check out these sweet tits.”

Pages 2-3 are a capsule of what’s wrong with the issue artistically. Page 3 is a splash page of a half-dressed Catwoman (with one boob still flopping about) crashing out of her window and across the street. On the opposite page, page 2, we see the crooks who are busting into her place with heavy firepower. The splash page has tons of detail, from broken shards of glass to clear (albeit grotesquely disfigured) outlines on Catwoman’s body as she flies through the air. The crooks on page 2, on the other hand, look as if they were doodled in one rapid go, with twisted arms, hilariously teeny heads on impossibly broad shoulders, and bull-thick necks. They look like the kind of crew you’d expect to find standing in the background of an early Image comic, only the image guys would have used tighter lines, and arguably would have drawn figures with better anatomy.

Hey, speaking of Image, the three crooks are all wearing skull half-masks highly reminiscent of Rob Liefeld’s old Youngblood character Chapel. Where else did we see that costume before? Oh, yeah! These guys are dead ringers for Massacre, the new arch villain of Batwing we saw in Week One’s Batwing #1…. Also by writer Judd Winick. What’s the deal? Is Winick secretly a Youngblood fan? It seems unlikely the crew of white thugs breaking into Catwoman’s apartment in Gotham City is related to a black supervillain/assassin in the Democratic Republic of Congo, so what up? Does Judd Winick have only one bad guy description in his arsenal? Until we hear otherwise, I’m going with the Youngblood hypothesis. I’m going to start checking the supporting casts of his books to see if Badrock or Prophet show up.

On the top of page 4, Catwoman sticks a three-point landing, and March’s illustration is so deformed that it looks like Catwoman’s right knee is sticking out farther than her head (her boob is still sticking out, though). I will say that the bottom of this page shows a big shot of Catwoman’s face as she watches her apartment blow up that I really liked (her mouth is twisted in a kind of annoying expression that you might expect from a cute Disney princess), but most of the anatomy in this allegedly “sexy” cheesecake book is twisted and malformed. If you don’t believe me, just turn the page, and you get a bizarre shot of Catwoman’s foreshortened leg as she jumps toward you with all the grace of a funhouse mirror image of one of those inflatable floppy-armed creatures they put outside used car lots to drum up business.

Surely the point of a cheesecake comic is to fill it with sexy drawings of the human body, no?

Then there’s a semi-touching scene between Catwoman and her friend and fence Lola (she really was a showgirl, the captions tell us, but the character’s shoulder-wide hips suggest otherwise). Lola tells Catwoman of a ritzy penthouse she can crash in while the owners are away, and also gives her info on a Russian job.

The Russian job turns out to involve a crime family that has worked hard to achieve a foothold in Gotham. Catwoman goes in disguise in a sexy red wig and cool sunglasses to… listen for clues about interesting stuff to steal, I guess. The Russians begin talking about a painting of a horse that has been with their clan for centuries, and just as Catwoman decides to steal it, she recognizes a face in the crowd.

This dude scares her, because “he’s supposed to be locked up.” This triggers a sepia-tone flashback of, presumably, Catwoman as a child. She’s in a corner crying while this man beats up and eventually kills a woman right in front of young Catwoman. I think that maybe the guy was a pimp and the woman was her mother (and a prostitute), but there aren’t enough clues for us to say one way or another. Why is Catwoman’s mother speaking Russian, anyway? Is “Selina Kyle” really a Russian name? WTF is going on? We don’t really get to find out.

We do get one more glorious shot of Catwoman’s titties, though. She decides to track down this mystery man to the bathroom, and while she does she opens her blouse to reveal her lucious cans, this time slung in a lacy purple bra. The guy tries to play it cool, but Catwoman steps forward to embrace him. Then she smashes his face into the sink, putting a giant crack in the surface that would be impossible to do with a face. Then she knees him in the face, shooting blood everywhere. Then for good measure she slashes his face with her sharp fingernails repeatedly, spraying blood all over the place (but not her face). Her blood-drenched hands are completely clean one panel later, so I guess no harm no foul.

Then Catwoman goes home to her apartment. And who should be waiting in the shadows for her, but Batman himself! He expresses concern for her in the aftermath of her apartment getting torched, but she moves in for an embrace. While they nibble on each other’s necks and gently finger the pointy ears on each other’s costumes, Winick’s captions tell us that Catwoman and Batman don’t know each other’s secret identities (apparently a change from the pre-reboot DCU). Then we get another bra shot, as Catwoman tells us “And he seems angry. But that doesn’t slow either of us down. Still, it doesn’t last long. And most of the costumes stay on.”

That last line accompanies the final splash page of the issue, which shows a partially naked Batman straddled by Catwoman, presumably mid-coitus. I say presumably because, even though Batman’s shirt is pushed up revealing a bit of his chest, and even though Catwoman has unzipped the zipper down the front of her costume, we’ve seen from previous panels that said zipper only seems to extend as far as her navel. So unless Batman has been stealing Gingold Juice from his stretchy buddy Elongated Man, methinks a little more of the costumes are going to need to come off if he is going to drive the Batmobile into the Catcave, so to speak.

So there you have it. DC’s bold new direction for this title is to show Batman and Catwoman having sex in a scene with all the emotional resonance you might expect from a similar image posted to a teenager’s Deviant Art account. The whole scene seems exploitative and skeezy, and most of all it just seems kind of lame.

And in that respect, the last page is a mirror of the first 21.

Status: On the Bubble.

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