January 28, 2009

Dave's Unspoilt Capsules and Awards

The Week's Picks and Pans, plus Awards of Dubious Merit

Standard Disclaimers: Please set appropriate followups.  Recommendation does
not factor in price.  Not all books will have arrived in your area this week.
PeopleSoft needs to suffer mightily.   Rants, Capsules can be found on my 
             homepage, http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/Rants 

     With Diamond's latest boosts in minimum order sizes, it's entirely
possible that my Wednesday reviews will soon only be "Premium" publishers, as
everyone else will be squeezed out.  Of course, today's is almost entirely
from the big publishers anyway, but still....

Preview Special:

     Smuggling Spirits: Studio 407 - By Ben Fisher with art by Mike
Henderson.  Here's the promo copy I was sent along with a review PDF:

     Smuggling Spirits takes place in a nightmarish Prohibition-era 
     America, where humans live in fear of blood-thirsty creatures 
     called "darklings."  A bootlegger and his young ward find themselves 
     on the run when they stumble upon the key to destroying these deadly 
     monstrosities.  As the beasts close in to take back what's theirs, 
     the two make their final stand in a blend of horror, drama, action, 
     and suspense.

     This is definitely a "small story" sort of tale, where we don't get to
see the overall picture except as glimpses through the eyes of the characters
involved.  A war is mentioned, we're told a few things about how humans and
darklings currently co-exist, but this isn't a story about the world as a
whole, it's a story about a guy named Al, who's suffering a brand of neurosis
that blinds him to the supernatural horror all around (i.e. he reinterprets
darklings as humans and normal animals).  While the narrative camera
occasionally drifts a bit, the story seems mainly to be told by Al's "young
ward" Nathan, although anyone who reads enough horror knows that just because
someone's narrating the story is no guarantee they'll survive.  After all,
the last page could be, "And so I wait here for the inevitable death...."  So
there's definite suspense.  And I like Al's functional insanity.  I don't
know if this is an intentional twist or not, but the "key" mentioned in the
promo may not be the macguffin that the tale revolves around.  
     Artistically, there's a definite "Sin City" feel here, to grab a
comparison that may not be the closest possible but definitely the most
recognizable.  There's no shades of gray at all, just black and white with
occasional dappling.  White ink is drawn over black backgrounds in many
places (although these days it could all be done on a tablet, I suppose).
     This is being released as a one-shot hardcover graphic novel, although I
didn't get a price.  Pretty good work, overall.  [Later note: Previews says

"Other Media" Capsules:

     Things that are comics-related but not necessarily comics
(i.e. comics-based movies like Iron Man or Hulk), or that aren't going to be
available via comic shops (like comic pack-ins with DVDs) will go in this
section when I have any to mention.  They may not be as timely as comic
reviews, especially if I decide to review novels that take me a week or two
(or ten) to get around to.

     Hulk Vs.: Lionsgate/Marvel - Two short (37 and 45 minutes) cartoons
featuring Hulk vs. Wolverine (the shorter one) and Thor.  The regular version
(which I got) has commentary tracks and featurettes showing a look at
Wolverine and the X-Men (currently available in Canada and recently on
high-channel cable in the U.S. plus DVD in April) and Thor: Tales of Asgard.
The deluxe 2-disc and blu-ray editions add some making-of and character
background featurettes.  All versions have a nice lencticular motion sleeve
that shows Hulk vs. Wolverine at one angle and Hulk vs. Thor at another (Hulk
has longer hair while fighting Thor).  Since I'm not generally a huge fan of
featurettes, I saved five bucks by getting the standard edition.  Best Buy
has the only exclusive deal I could find, offering a pack of trading cards
with the 2-disc regular DVD and two packs with the blu-ray, whee.
     Oh yeah, there's actually content in there.  Hulk vs. Wolverine is
largely an updating of Hulk #181, Wolverine's first appearance.  This Hulk
has red blood, rather than green.  But instead of Wendigo as the extra dance
partner, a version of Weapon X takes the role of the heavy, leading to plenty
of flashback action.  Deadpool steals pretty much every scene he's in, as one
might expect.  The character designs look to be Madueria-inspired for the
most part, although Sabretooth looks like he could have stepped out of
Transformers: Animated.  This one earns its PG-13 for the loads of blood, and
the fact that several characters have healing factors that lets them be
repeatedly (and graphically) dismembered.  The actual Hulk vs. Wolverine part
is really just background, and it never gets resolved on-screen (although
watch past the credits to see more or less how it ended).  The Wolverine and
the X-Men preview makes it sound like it's a completely different continuity
with its own retelling of Hulk #181, but I'm told this is meant to be a
direct prequel to W&tXM, which does its #181 story as the second meeting of
Hulk and Logan.  Whatevs.  :)
     The Thor story is related to, but not a prequel for, the upcoming
theatrical Thor cartoon.  It's mostly a running fight scene, although there's
a few pauses for character bits here and there.  I'm not sure why it also got
rated PG-13 (the two cartoons have separate ratings), as a split lip is the
extent of the blood and there's no cussin' or inappropriate sex faces.  The
main story hinges on Bruce Banner being pretty much unlike he's portrayed for
the entire rest of the show (i.e. a total whiny git except at the very end),
so it rings false.
     All in all, a decent evening's entertainment, although it'll probably be
a Saturday night movie on Cartoon Network soon enough.  $14.99 shelf price at
Best Buy, on sale for $12.99 this week.

Comics Capsules:
     Short, relatively spoiler-free reviews of books I actually bring home
(as opposed to reading in preview form in the shop or online).  If I get a
book late due to distributor foulups or whatever, I'll put it in the Missing

     Books of Note (Strongly Recommended or otherwise worthy): Amazing
Spider-Man Extra #2, Blue Beetle #35

     Ninja High School #166: Antarctic Press - A bit of a breather after the
sturm und drang of #165, following one segment of the cast both in the
present and via flashback.  It delves into some very silly elements of early
NHS lore, while generally telling a very serious story with them, and Bevard
manages to pull it off.  Recommended.  $2.99
     She-Hulk v2 #37: Marvel - No crossover banner at all, amazing!
Basically, we're in wrap-up mode here, as Peter David wraps things up so that
the next writer doesn't have to deal with too many danglers (this title is
cancelled soon, and a new Savage She-Hulk is starting in a couple months).
The storytelling is a little too clever in terms of obscuring what's going
on, but not unmanageably so.  Recommended.  $2.99
     Ms. Marvel #35: Marvel - Dark Reign banner.  And yes, I've seen the
rumors about #37, but based on reading this issue I don't really give them
any credence.  Yes, Dark Avengers has established a new Ms. Marvel, but this
title's still about Carol Danvers.  It also picks up some of the threads from
the recent Captain Marvel miniseries that have been drifting in and out of
the title, but unfortunately also goes back into that torture porn issue.
All in all, it stands on its own very poorly, depending too much on readers
following Dark Avengers and Secret Invasion for the emotional impact behind
the events.  Mildly recommended.  $2.99
     Avengers the Initiative #21: Marvel - Dark Reign AND Disassembled
banners, plus the Initiative banner is part of the regular logo.  Heh.  With
Slott off on Mighty Avengers, Gage takes over as sole writer, with Humberto
Ramos joining on the art.  Delgado does the "color art" which suggests Ramos
only contributed pencils, and there's a bit of a style mis-match between the
two artists that leads to some oddness.  Could have used a few captions here
and there to establish who's who, given the large cast and new artist.
(Aside: I really want an Agents of Atlas cameo so Gorilla Girl can meet Ken.)
Gage manages to keep the body count down, mostly putting people on buses if
he's not planning to use them, and even the one apparent death probably won't
stick.  Recommended.  $2.99
     Amazing Spider-Man Extra #2: Marvel - I'm not really sure what makes
this different from simply putting in another weekly issue at $3.99, probably
some contractual or bookkeeping thing.  Two stories in this issue, one of
which is kinda important to the ongoing plot.  Dan Slott writes an Anti-Venom
vs. Mr. Negative story with Bachalo exercising the weirder ends of his art
style, and it's worth getting this issue just for that.  Zeb Wells and Paolo
Rivera provide a quieter tale that somehow manages to combine the words
"touching" and "Wolverine" effectively.  Heh.  Maybe it's not canonical how
Wells treats Wolverine's healing factor here, but it's fun, so I don't mind.
Strongly recommended.  $3.99
     Incredible Hercules #125: Marvel - Love & War banner, but that's not a
crossover.  :)  The arc wraps up with a brief exploration of Arthume's
alternate reality and more than a little heartbreak.  A little bit more reset
button than I'd like, even accounting for the fact Pak and Van Lente couldn't
exactly leave the world changed into a matriarchy.  Recommended, though.
     Justice Starbreaker, er, League of America #29: DC - Faces of Evil and
Logo Obscurement.  Since this shipped late, my store has two Justice
(obscured) America titles on the shelf today.  Len Wein and Chriscross retell
the story of Starbreaker's first clash with the JLA as the opening shot in a
new arc with the villain (who Wikipedia tells me was also involved in the
Rann-Thanagar War after his defeat by the Bloodwynd-era JLA).  Granted,
Wein's one of the classic writers, so this isn't a case of a hot new writer
trying to put his own stamp on a classic story, but it still felt kinda weird
having a 27 year old story retold with so many Silver Age elements intact.
It tended to make Starbreaker look more silly than sinister, unfortunately.
Mildly recommended.  $2.99
     Justice Society of America #23: DC - Faces of Evil, Black Adam.  Johns
and Ordway pick up a bunch of Marvel Family stuff, and the theme seems to
continue to be "the Marvel Family needs to become grim and gritty" as seen in
Countdown and 52.  Meanwhile, the JSA angsts about who should get to stick
around after the Gog debacle.  Eh.  Nice Ordway art, but the whole corruption
of innocence and hope motif is wearing thin.  Very mildly recommended.  $2.99 
     Legion of Super-Heroes #50: DC - FINAL ISSUE.  I guess those who told me
it wasn't ending at #50 were wrong.  Wraparound cover makes it look like Ion
got a book back (the front has a small LSH logo and a big "ION F -HEROES").
Jim Shooter's name is not in the credits, rather the writing is credited to
the obviously pseudonymous "Justin Thyme".  Ramon Bachs does the pencils, and
drifts off-model on the newer characters.  Anyway, the story focuses on
resolving the main invasion plot, in a pretty deus-ex-machina (deus INTO
machina, perhaps?) fashion, tying off a couple of the romantic subplots, and
jettisoning everything else.  No Projectra, no Imra/Garth resolution, etc.
Very perfunctory, and if Shooter did write this I don't blame him for
Smithee-ing it.  It reads like a fan comic...a good fan comic, but still.
Neutral.  $2.99
     Batman the Brave and the Bold #1: DC - Tie-in to the new cartoon, no
relation to the other BatB book.  It follows the same basic format as the
cartoon, with Aquaman in the pre-credits teaser (fighting a villain whose
existence has been suggested in the cartoon, but hasn't appeared yet) and
Power Girl (aka "Ace programmer Karen Starr") in the main story.  There are
Blue Beetle elements (well, specifically, Carapax), but no Jaime.  The art
tries to convey the feel of the cartoon, but it's just...not quite right.
It's like the parts of the Powerpuff Girls that look like they were done in
homage to John Kricfalusi have been grafted onto the 50s-inspired BatB
cartoon art style, and it's kinda jarring.  Similarly, the writing tries to
match the semi-campy tone of the cartoon, but gets it subtly wrong.  It's
still a good story, but you have to overlook a number of flaws.  Recommended.
     Blue Beetle #35: DC - Wow, it's Carapax's month.  The first act of the
issue is basically Jaime versus a collection of Ted's old foes (and not the
first string of those, to be honest), trying to make the point that while the
surface stuff is very different (i.e. he's not exactly breaking a sweat
against Ted's rogues) the underlying mission is very much the same.  Because
the third act is all about unintended consequences coming around to bite
Jaime in his armored butt, and now he has to put Ted's lessons to the test
against someone a little more impressive than Firefist.  In the middle,
teenage romance.  Art by Carlo Barberi, words by Sturges.  Strongly
recommended.  $2.99

Gone Missing:

     Stuff that came out some places this week and that I wanted to buy, but
couldn't find for whatever reason, so people don't have to email me asking
"Why didn't you review X?"  (If it's neither here nor in the section above,
though, feel free to ask, I might have forgotten about it!) 

     Current list as of 1/28/09: Official Handbook of the Gold Digger
Universe #22, Transformers Maximum Dinobots #1 and 2, Transformers Revenge of
the Fallen Prequel #1 and 2.  Add Transformers Revenge of the Fallen:
Defiance #1, Mighty Avengers #21.  (I've been reading the Revenge of the
Fallen comics off the shelf at Hastings, though.  I kinda expect to have to
wait for the trades now.)


"N-Dimensional Family Trees" Award to Ninja High School #166

"I'm All For Forgetting The Civil War/Initiative/Secret Invasion Myself"
     Award to She-Hulk v2 #37

"* See Every Book Marvel Publishes Except This One - Ye Merry Editors" Award
     to Ms. Marvel #35

"Can We Lure Him Over To Oklahoma?" Award to Avengers the Initiative #21

"Normally, This Sort Of Thing Requires Hiring Deadpool" Award to Amazing
     Spider-Man Extra #2

"Gasp, It's The Raider!" Award to Incredible Hercules #125

"Funny How He Omits The Bit Where Ted Kord Beat Him" Award to Justice 
     League of America #29

"Next Month, Sugar And Spike Drown A Puppy!" Award to Justice Society of
     America #23

"Burn, United Planets, Burn!" Award to Legion of Super-Heroes #50

"More Like Lex Luser" Award to Batman the Brave and the Bold #1

"The World Will Be Destroyed...By STEAM!" Award to Blue Beetle #35

     Dave Van Domelen, "Seriously, Luthor.  Pass up a DONUT once in a while."
- Power Girl, Batman the Brave and the Bold #1
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