Thursday, January 26, 2012

From the 50 Cent Pile

The Defenders #1 and #2

Writer: Matt Fraction
Penciler: Terry Dodson
Inker: Rachel Dodson
Colorist: Sonia Oback
Letterer: VC's Clayton Cowles

Next to the register at my comic book store are stacks and stacks of impulse buys. At 50 cents a comic, more times than not, I will pick a book up if it seems even remotely interesting. The Defenders #1 was next to the register last Wednesday. This is not a book I would normally get. I'm admittedly not a huge Marvel fan. I only follow a few superhero titles and all of them are DC. But for some reason I have always had a fascination with Dr. Strange, The Silver Surfer, and Prince Namor (well I guess it's King Namor now, but you get what I'm saying). I have one volume each of the black and white Marvel Essentials books. I never found any of the books that compelling, but I'm planning on giving them a re-read at some point.
I had no clue what The Defenders were all about, but with Doc Strange, Silver Surfer, and Namor on the cover, I could get into their new book at 50 cents and come out ahead even if it was complete garbage.

My feelings on the book are mixed. There was some surprisingly good dialogue, most notably that of Dr. Strange. There is even a Jersey Shore moment where the Doc laments the student that he took home for a one night stand. It appears that The Comics Code is now a thing of the past. Namor is another surprisingly good character. Funny, witty, and chock full of overall badassery, he makes and not breaks this one. Silver Surfer appears later in the book as an almost omniscient and God-like character. Drawn as some sort of cubist Picasso rip off, he is my third least favorite character in this occultist version of The Avengers. I'm not even going to get into The Iron Fist and She Hulk. They are good for a couple cheap one liners, but do their best to ruin the book at every turn.

The plot was pretty "eh". It seems that Hulk's rage and hate has manifested itself in the form of a new "Black Hulk". Yawn, it seems that Marvel will have a Hulk of every color by the year 2017. How the mighty fall. But even though this is not a perfect contribution to world of superheroes, The Defenders is a lot of fun. I was surprised as anyone when I gave the comic book store a call and told them to add it to my pull list. It made me want to read more in the end. That is saying something. I have a lot of deep seeded prejudices against Marvel as a whole, and they managed to keep on for at least a few more issues. Hopefully they keep She Hulk and The Iron Fist out of this book as much as possible and improve the plot a bit in the future. Getting some different artists on the book wouldn't hurt either. The Defenders could go in some pretty interesting directions in the future. But for now, it has potential and some bright spots. Prognosis: Good enough for now.

By: William R. Davis Jr.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pumpkin Seeds and Brain Eating

Venom #12
Writer: Rick Remender
Pencils: Lan Medina
Inks: Nelson Decastro
Cover: Tony Moore and Dean White

The newest incarnation of the character Venom is a far cry from his humble beginning. You see the symbiote, known as Venom, started off as nothing more than an advanced costume that Spider-Man picked up on Battle World way back in the Secret Wars. An interesting little known fact is that Marvel didn’t create the suit. A fan wrote in to Marvel about a new black suit created by Mr. Fantastic for a writing contest entry.
So yeah, Spider-Man brought it back to Earth and after discovering its true nature (I’m sure you’ve seen Spider-Man 3) rejects the suit, and Eddie Brock, under the steady hand of Todd McFarlane, becomes the iconic Marvel Villain Venom.
He was an instant hit and issue after issue of the Spider-Man books he caused major issues for the Web Head. Brock ends up with cancer and decides to sell the symbiote for ungodly amounts of cash and donates it to charity. A son of a mob boss buys it. The symbiote ends up finding this jerk “unworthy” and ends up causing this guy’s death. In mid-jump between buildings, the symbiote separates from him and he goes splat.
The super villain Scorpion was the next to run with it for a while. The symbiote ended up being removed from him by big brother (He’s always watching).
Now we arrive at the present and current “wearer” Flash Thompson. The government gives the symbiote to Flash shortly after his legs were blown off in the line of duty. He becomes sort of a government agent at first, then not so much. He still battles the symbiote for control. So that’s why he seems like a hero then ten minutes later he’s trying to eat someone’s brain.
Now back to this latest issue. Venom has been blackmailed by the Crime-Master and forced to go with Jack O’Lantern to Vegas to recover a mysterious shipment. The shipment turns out to be “Toxin” undeniably the most powerful of all the symbiotes. Not to mention Venom’s “grandson.” So naturally, Venom try’s to destroy it and a battle between Venom and Jack ensues. I loved it when after having just crashed his flying “broom stick” he says “I just took that one in the pumpkin seeds.” For fear of the crime-master hurting his family, Venom lets Jack escape with the true Toxin symbiote and then he proceeds to get smashed on Whiskey with alley bums.
The issue ended the road trip arc and the next story arc involves the Avengers sending out the Red Hulk to beat down Venom… that sounds promising.
All and all, I really enjoyed the writing. It was like the art and writing had a sort of sinister darkness about it. As I’ve said before, I’m partial to darker art with heavy shadows and gloom about it. And the cover, forget about it…’s amazing. Jack O’Lantern and Venom locked in a battle of deadly melee. What’s not to like?

By: Cody Miller

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Demand Something Better

I found myself with not too much to get excited about this week. After multiple trips to the comic book store, and over double my normal comic budget, the only stories that I came to treasure were the standards on my pull list. But there have been articles written about these books in the past. And this whole thing isn't really about writing love letters to our favorite books week after week. The reality of comicdom is simple: There are a lot more bad books out there than good ones. The superhero genre is the victim of the same regurgitated, recycled stories of our youth. Most fanboys could care less. Bruce Wayne is Batman. Clark Kent is Superman. The big books never really change all that much. Once in a generation someone like Frank Miller comes along and redefines a book like Batman, but nothing like that has happened since I was about eight years old. The adult genre suffers in the same way. The books about sex, have sex crammed into every panel. The violent ones: blood, gore, and exploding human bodies on every page. It has gotten to the point where most don't have much of a story anymore, but that doesn't even matter. Fanboys are the most loyal and obsessive consumers in the world. Marvel fans buy Marvel books. DC fans buy DC books. Adult and independent genre fans buy books from Image, Dark Horse, Vertigo, and Dynamite. These companies keep churning out literary chum week after week because people will buy them regardless of their quality, and it is all our fault.

These books are not cheap either. I spend more at my local comic book shop per month than on cable television with HBO and DVR. At $3.00 to $4.50 a piece, we deserve better. DC did some nice things with the reboot, but Batman and Swamp Thing are now broken and awful. Scott Snyder needs to be replaced on both, and although I have been collecting Batman books since the age of eight, I had to stop buying both titles. As a collector, my obsessive compulsive collector instincts constantly come to the surface. I try to avoid eye contact with my Batman section and not think about the issues not being bagged and bored and neatly cataloged away. Those feelings eventually pass, and we must let them because the only way we are going to send a message to these companies is to stop buying their sub-par products. Without our dollars they have to stop settling for less and actually put a product on the shelves that is worth reading.

What are we hoarders? They play these reality shows over and over again starring people awkwardly navigating their way through rooms full of mountains of useless crap. How many plastic forks and crusty old sweatpants does one crazy old lady actually need? Most reasonable people watch shows like these for sheer shock value, but this leads me to an undeniable truth about the people we see at comic shops and conventions. The truth is that the majority of comic fans are no better. As fans, we need to be less concerned about collecting every single issue, and more concerned about the quality of our collection. If you are anything like me, you probably already own more comics than you can ever re-read in a lifetime anyway. Hoarding away crappy comics keeps the status quo alive and thriving.

Comics have started to gain real credibility in the literary world in the last 15 years. One of the best kept secrets in entertainment is starting to become more well known. Scurrilous academics now have an opinion on Maus, American Splendor, and Persepolis. I hate academics, and for years they tore to shreds something that I loved because of negative stereotypes. Now it is trendy to view comics as an art form in literary circles, and you better believe that if you find yourself at a party where one of these worthless human beings is sipping a glass of chardonnay and the subject of comics in literature comes up in conversation, that tool of a pretentious prick will act like an authority on the subject even though they have only read five "graphic novels" in their entire lives. It is easy for real fans to sniff out these posers within 3 minutes. The conversation never gets past Moore, Spiegelman, or Craig Thompson's Blankets. How many conversations have you had like that in your lifetime? Too many I would wager.

Comics are an art form. More than that, they are one of the few pure American art forms left after the death of jazz. If we continue to happily lap up mediocrity in comics, we dilute and cheapen a form of entertainment with endless potential. When comics are good, they're really good! Any real fan knows that simple fact. The superhero genre can be better. The adult and independent genres can both be better. It is time to keep our wallets closed in the face of these cheap hacks and worthless academics that are trying to kill the very thing that we love.

This started out as a review of a couple new monthlies that I ended up being very disappointed about in the end. What started as a standard post, turned into a necessary rant (for my own sanity anyway). But I hated the fact that I felt obligated to write about the very books that I have grown to despise in every sense, not because they were horrible, but more because they were uninspiring, cheap rip-offs that I have already read numerous times in different incantations. I would tear them both to shreds with my words, but I do more service to the integrity of comics by not even mentioning their names here. Refuse to buy inferior comics. Demand something better. They're already infesting the shelves of our favorite stores like locusts, and they will stay there until consumers start making better choices about how to spend their money. Be part of the solution.

By: William R. Davis Jr.

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's Not a Shame About Ray

Scarlet Spider #1
Writer: Christopher Yost
Pencils: Ryan Stegman

I was super excited to find this book waiting snuggly in my folder at the comic shop. I was curious about this title the first time I heard about it a few months ago. I know what you are thinking……not the damn clone saga again. Well, it’s not. So don’t hate just to hate! So assuming you’ve been living in some other universe or just aren’t that familiar with Spider lore, let me run this down for you (cuz that’s how we roll at the Hammond Comics blog). Miles Warren, aka Jackal, created all three Spider-Man clones. The first was Kaine and he was defective; he had a cellular degeneration problem and that’s never good. The second was Ben Reilly and he became the original Scarlet Spider. Then came Spidercide and he was a bad guy that teamed up with Jackal. Ben Reilly was impaled by the Green Goblin’s glider and died a most horrible death. Now, fifteen years later, Kaine, reformed, would honor Ben’s memory by making the Scarlet Spider his own. Though somewhat reformed, Kaine still battles with being a hero or being a villain. Simply put, the Scarlet Spider is just a darker shadier (in a good way) version of Spidey.

So far, so good Marvel, but we both know you’re playing with fire with the whole clone thing. But, like I said, it seems to be going in a totally different direction. I noticed the first thing that happened was that they landed him in Texas, far from NYC and Spider-Man. So, hopefully Yost cooks up some fresh new villains for our fresh new web-slinger. Time will tell if this is just another ploy to get us to buy shit comics or if this title holds water.

The Ray: Books 1 and 2 of 6
Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray
Pencilier: Jamal Igie
Inker (tracer): Rich Perrotta
Colorist: Guy Major

I’ve really been enjoying this series. The art is what really excites me the most. Lucien, aka The Ray, glows literally. He gets hit by some kind of particle beam of experimental light that accidentally fired across Earth’s surface. Now Lucien can alter the way he reflects light, hover in areas of concentrated light, and of course, move at what? You guessed it……the speed of light. Even though I have found this run to be entertaining and enjoyable, I’ve one major problem. In the first two issues he battles gigantic telepathic jellyfish, super-sized flying sting rays, and an army of giant metallic pill bugs who abducted his girlfriend…..oh wait….I like that part. Not bad DC, not bad at all.

By: Cody Miller

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Rasl: Leave Your Bone at Home

Writer/Creator/Artist: Jeff Smith

There might not be a more common name in America than Jeff Smith, but ask anyone at your local comic shop or at any comic convention, and even the most casual fan within those walls will tell you that there is nothing common about self-publishing comic artist Jeff Smith except for his name. His greatest work to date is the voluminous and critically acclaimed Bone. If you have not read this masterpiece, to be honest, I just feel sorry for you. Bone is unique because it is a self-published work that appeals to both children and adults, and was one of the few books in that genre that got by on powerful storytelling instead of separating itself from the mainstream by focusing on more adult themes. Like all great epic tales, it is timeless and ageless. Whether you own the "brick", a 1332 page black and white tome the size of a technical manual, or are the proud owner of the new flashy color hardcover books published by Scholastic, there is no doubt that Bone is a masterpiece. How do you write a followup to something so beloved by so many? When Smith released the first few issues of Rasl, comic fans had their answer.

Rasl is a departure from the kid friendly themed Bone, and that is an understatement. But all of the booze, and Rasl's proclivity towards prostitutes and gentleman's clubs are not force fed and excessively permeating like they are in so many other adult themed comics. These vices are not the cornerstone of Rasl, instead they are more like a nice side dish complimenting a delicious entree. It is really a good indication of the range that Jeff Smith has creating a unique and engaging tale. Once again he does a great job of weaving together a complicated plot and complex characters almost effortlessly, but this is the only way that Rasl and Bone are similar.

The only part of Rasl that I find unappealing is the wait time between the release of each new issue, but the man draws and writes the book himself so you can't really get too angry at the guy. Unfortunately though, it does get to the point where I have to go back and re-read previous issues to remember all of the finer plot points to get the most out of each new book. Although the issues are coming out much more frequently recently, the plot is starting to feel a little inorganic and Smith seems to be sprinting towards the finish line. It came as a shock to me when he said in his letters page that there were only a handful of new issues left with so much of this new world yet to be discovered.

Smith shows remarkable restraint when revealing the intricate plot of Rasl. Although I know this is no cookie cutter inter-dimensional Sliders rip-off, there is still a lot left that has yet to be disclosed to the reader. Just when you think the book can't get any weirder, God starts showing up in the form of a mute and strung out little girl removing any doubt. Any Smith fan not yet knee deep in Rasl floppies needs to go out and start purchasing some trades right away. It has been a long road for us die-hards that have been with the book since issue one, and the new reader of this series has the advantage of sitting down with a few trades and an hour later they are up to speed. There is no waiting three months for a new issue to hit the shelves if you get into the series now. If you like a great story, Jeff Smith books, inter-dimensional travel fantasy themes, or Nikola Tesla, Rasl is a must read. If for some reason none of that sounds appealing, I encourage you to pick up the book anyway. This one might just change your mind.

By: William R. Davis Jr.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Devil's Threesome with Cable and a Witchdoctor

Avengers Xsanction 1-2
Writer:Jeph Loeb
Penciler: Ed McGuinness
Inker: Dextor Vines
Colorist: Morry Hollowell

Buy it. Read it. Kiss it, love it and call it your own. If you have missed part 1 and 2 of this four part series, don’t panic; there is still time to catch up before issue three. Act now or forever carry the ugly shame monster for the rest of eternity, or until 12/12.

The art is sublime and the writing is grand. My only fault is that I hate Red Hulks facial expressions in issue 2. Seriously, you could build a small settlement on his protruding forehead. It’s like there’s a duck coming beak first out of the poor bastards’ forehead.

So Cable is back from the dead/future. It seems Cable has only 24 hours to live before the techno-organic virus totally consumes him. He comes back and goes to war with the Avengers in hopes that it will save his daughter, Hope. Cable takes out Falcon first and in short order. My favorite part of the first issue was seeing Cable beat Captain America’s ass. I love it. I have never really liked Captain America much. I am not sure why, but he just comes off as a douche bag. I also enjoy when Cable uses weapons from the future that Tony Stark hasn’t invented yet against him. I have never been a huge Iron Man fan either. So I was glad to see him blasted into submission. Truly all good things must come to an end. Just when things were getting good the Red Hulk shows up and drops the hammer on Cable. Fade to black. It seriously draws you in no doubt about it. I am not liking the fact that I have to wait until February to see what happens next. Hey Marvel great idea bringing Cable back in such a fashion, but I am warning you, Jeph Loeb…..respect the spider. As the Red Brow so beautifully said, “I gotta admire a man with a really big gun collection.”

Witch Doctor: The Resuscitation
Writer: Brandon Seifert
Artist: Kukas Ketner
Special medical consulting: Karen Anderson

I totally picked this one up because of the cover art. Frame worthy. I am not going to tell you anything else about it except it’s grand. I guess the art from the innards is good too, but the cover……mind numbing eye candy.

The story is a little crazy, but hey what’s wrong with that? I got this steam punk/fight club kind of feel about it. For a one and done it was worth the $2.99, but will I be back for the series? Know do I not young Skywalker, but if the covers stay this cool I will get a full body tattoo of every single one. See who’s laughing then. Any comic book with a special medical consultant is okay by me.

p.s. Avengers vs. X-men and Scarlet Spider will be here soon and that makes me happy. Read Hawken. That is all.

By: Cody Miller

Monday, January 2, 2012

Tales from the Dumpster: Angel Love

Tales from the Dumpster

Angel Love

Barbara Slate’s Angel Love was an interesting shot at engaging teen girls in comics.

And when I say interesting, I politely mean crappy.

I picked up issues 3-6 based on issue three’s cover which has the spikey haired protagonist exclaiming “What? You’re pregnant?!” The cover art was definitely Archie-esque, and I hoped to find some adult issues tackled in a light humorous mag.

Well, it was light, but both the writing and art were unfortunately subpar. It turns out that letting a woman (she has prominent billing on each cover, something extremely unusual in comics, especially in the mid 80’s) draw and write about touchy issues is not quite enough for success...she has to be talented as well. Angel did last 10 issues (counting an annual and a special), but I don’t think she has garnered much historical renown even if she was the first DC leading lady (which she might not have been) to have a coke sniffing boyfriend in her first issue (an incident I learned about from the letters pages). Besides, Harry Osborne had been popping pills since 1971 in the pages of Spider-man.

I’ll give Ms. Slate the benefit of the doubt that she was sincere in her attempts to create something unique that spoke to a different audience, but the actual product is so bad that it just reeks of executive-idea-gimick. It’s hard to imagine the art and dialogue could pass muster in any other comic title had not the execs asked someone to come up with some crap to draw in the “11-18 year old girl” (again info gleaned from the letters pages) demographic, a demographic that did, and does not, buy a lot of comics.
The abortion story in issue 3 wavers awkwardly between the edgy and the infantile, starting off with Angel drawing (she’s a struggling artist too...oh! art imitating life?!) an angel that starts talking to her about wanting “a nose job.” When Angel erases her ample schnozz to replace it was a “cute” sharp one, the even-more-crudely-drawn-than-the-rest-of-the-comic angel says “ouch!” Hah! A regular laff-riot this book.

The actual abortion bit is pretty standard after school special stuff. Angel counsels her friend to review her option and then promises to support her whatever she chooses...while this in itself isn’t “bad,” it’s all there is. Imagine the previous sentence poorly illustrated over two pages of panels, and there you have it.

Then you have a few pages with more ground breaking humor in the form of banter between her ditzy, blonde, wanna-be-actress, roommate and her wise, black, hip-talkin’ (he calls females “girl” and doesn’t pronounce the g’s at the end of his sentences) male friend before we get to the conclusion...where we find that her friend has changed her mind and won’t be having the abortion after all.

Then issue four is about her being flighty in romance, followed by her mother being on her death bed in issue five, and her search for her sister to get some bone marrow to save her mom in issue 6. But with some cute talking cockroaches to lighten it up a bit.

All relevant issues, I suppose, but that’s hard to see, because it’s all done poorly.

But there were some folks who liked it...take Artie Salazar from issue four’s letters:

“Dear Angel,
I’m a lonely young man who spends a lot of time reading comic books. You are the greatest breathe of fresh air from the miserable environment that sometimes comes from these stories. Every young, heterosexual man dreams of meeting a beautiful, funny person like yourself.”

Artie then goes on for four more paragraphs to share where he goes to school (UC San Diego) his future plans (moving to New York to direct on Broadway “I...expect to have the same problems with roaches...Ha-ha!”), and his current triumphs (“I’m directing a futuristic adaptation of the opera Madam Butterfly.”) before concluding with:

“Perhaps one of your fans will see this letter and contact me. I love you.”

Angel responded:
“Dear Artie, You sound like such an interesting guy...”

By which I’m pretty sure she politely meant “crappy.”