Sep 30, 2014

Raising Wolf Children: A Story of Family, Community, and Love

Raising Wolf Children: A Story of Family, Community, and Love
by Tanya Lindquist
Full Metal Lindquist

Mamoru Hosoda’s Wolf Children is the story of Hana, who falls in a love with a mysterious student in her college class. They begin dating, but before they can get serious he has a secret to share with her. He is part of an ancient line of wolves, and he can transform at will. This is not a problem for our young heroine, because the bonds of love are too strong to be tamed. Shortly thereafter, they get married and have two children. The father dies tragically in an accident, and Hana is left alone to raise them. The children take after their father and can transform into wolf cubs. This leads to chewed up furniture, howling, and collecting animal bones.

While the manga contains several humorous moments, the story is grounded in reality. Hana’s fears of failing as a parent and learning to let go resonate. Hana, at first, tries to do everything by herself including growing and harvesting her own vegetables. Neighbors and strangers stop by and see her struggling. Instead of just walking away, they teach and guide her to self-sufficiency.


The story also chronicles the lives of the children Ame and Yuki from infancy to their middle school years. Hana asks them in one scene what side of their nature do they want to embrace? Wolf or human? Ame, the more pensive of the siblings struggles being in the human world. Yuki, on the other hand, has a natural curiosity about humans and desires to fit in with them.

The manga and the anime are both worthwhile to seek out. They complement each other and deliver a unique experience. The manga abbreviates certain scenes featured in the anime. The only change that is striking comes towards the end. In the anime, sound is a huge part of the emotional impact of the the final scene. The manga changes it to visually hit the same notes. This reminds one that while an anime can hit you through sight and sound, a manga has to convey these feelings through visuals only.

Sep 29, 2014

Battle for the 80s, Part 1: Not Even Close

Battle for the 80s
Part 1 – Not Even Close

The quantification of time is one of the more useful innovations of the human race. It can also be quite demoralizing in some instances. It’s great when you want to know exactly when to celebrate something such as a holiday or a birthday. It’s much less great when you sit down and think about how old you are and how much time you probably have left before dying, or how much time you have left before you get off work or are released from prison. You know, happy thoughts.

Regardless, the measurement of time, and the frequent need to categorize those measurements into specific increments representing a larger whole, like in the case of decades, leads me to my latest hopeless endeavor. I’m going to pit the top cartoon/comic book properties of that greatest of pop culture decades, the 1980s, against each other, to determine the reigning champion of the decade. I will do this utilizing categories that I will make up as I go along, until an undisputed winner is determined. So, if you’re like me, and you are perpetually obsessed with the cartoons and comics you watched in between the years of 1980 and 1989, you’ll want to keep reading.

(I contemplated long and hard about whether Star Wars should be included in the competition, but ultimately decided against it. Even though Star Wars was very prominent in the decade, with two of the original three movies being released during it, I felt that with both the movie and the comic having started in the ‘70s, that it be excluded from the proceedings.)

The following matchups were determined at random, as far as you know.

ROUND ONE – PART ONE

TRANSFORMERS VS VOLTRON

Primary Heroic Character: Optimus Prime (Transformers) – Voltron (Voltron)

I suppose you could argue for Commander Keith, leader of the Voltron force, but let’s be honest, every kid only watched that cartoon for one reason, and that was to see them form Voltron and swing his sword at some giant monster. Considering Voltron didn’t have a personality on his own, that doesn’t bode well for him in this category. Optimus Prime is one of the greatest leaders ever created in heroic fiction. His death traumatized an entire generation of kids, and also pretty much single-handedly torpedoed what was, at the time, the most successful toy franchise in history.

Winner: Transformers

Primary Villain: Megatron (Transformers) – King Zarkon (Voltron)

Megatron is one of the great villains of all time, and managed to murder his rival Optimus Prime, which is unheard of in animation. King Zarkon I had to google just to remember his name.

Winner: Transformers

Supporting Heroic Cast: Bumblebee, Jazz, Wheeljack, Spike (Transformers) – Sven, Princess Allura, Hunk, Lance, Pidge (Voltron)

Transformers may have its fair share of annoying heroic characters like Spike (Buster in the comics) and Bumblebee, it more than makes up for them with Autobots like the Dinobots, Jazz, Sideswipe, and Blaster (or my personal favorite Tracks). Voltron has a fat guy named Hunk, and an annoying kid character named Pidge. Please.

Winner: Transformers

Supporting Villainous Cast: Starscream, Soundwave, Shockwave, Ravage (Transformers) – Prince Lotor, Queen Merla, Haggar

Starscream is one of the most entertaining villains ever devised, and Soundwave represented the pinnacle of toy technology. In the comics, Shockwave was a force to be reckoned with on the level of Megatron. I had to google the Voltron villain names.

Winner: Transformers

Animated Series

Voltron is hampered by the re-dubbing of the shows into English, but holds up fairly well as a cartoon. Transformers is one of the best cartoons of all time, with most of the episodes still immensely watchable to this day (no bias at all).

Winner: Transformers

Theme Song

Transformers is one of the contenders for the cartoon with the best theme song of the decade. (Cranky Editor Man: Voltron's theme song is actually one of my favorite theme songs ever, with a tune that I could probably just play on loop if I removed the vocal track. But it doesn't have the earworminess of the Transformers theme song.)

Winner: Transformers

Comic Book Series

The Transformers comic book established a separate, and much darker universe from the animated series. The violence, and the feelings of isolation as the book focused on specific characters, gave the series a much edgier tone, especially early in the series. I’m pretty sure Voltron probably had a comic, but I’m not going to waste time looking it up because we both know Voltron isn’t winning this matchup.

Winner: Transformers

ADVANCING TO NEXT ROUND: Transformers

DUCKTALES VS THE SMURFS

Primary Heroic Character: Uncle Scrooge McDuck (Ducktales) – Papa Smurf (The Smurfs)

Papa Smurf is like the ultimate stoner cult leader that’s always preaching to be respectful, but also free with your bodies. Uncle Scrooge is rich and will sometimes take you on dangerous adventures to find treasure. Both are pretty great.

Winner: Uncle Scrooge

Primary Villain: Beagle Boys (Ducktales) – Gargamel (The Smurfs)

Its arguable if the Beagle Boys would be considered the primary villains of the Ducktales universe, perhaps a more accurate choice would be poverty itself. The Beagle Boys were always trying to steal Scrooge’s money, so they’re close enough, and there never-ending cast of family members always provided something new and entertaining. Yet, Gargamel is a creepy old wizard that lives in the woods with his pet cat, and is always trying to capture the Smurfs so he can eat them.

Winner: The Smurfs

Supporting Heroic Cast: Huey, Dewey, Louie, Launchpad McQuack, Donald Duck (Ducktales) – Smurfette, Vanity, Brainy, Lazy, Grouchy (The Smurfs)

Smurfette certainly raised quite a few questions among the children of my school about reproduction, and the merits of monogamy, and she was a blonde. While its impressive that a Smurf was so inactive as to be named Lazy Smurf, Brainy Smurf really needed a punch in the face. (Don’t even get me started on those punks Johann and Peewit.) Meanwhile, Launchpad McQuack was as endearing as he was incompetent, and Huey, Dewey, and Louie managed the rare feat of being child characters that weren’t completely annoying. Characters like Gyro and the super dry Duckworth helped offset the walking wet-blankets that were Webby and Mrs Beakley.

Winner: Ducktales

Supporting Villainous Cast: Flintheart Glomgold, Magica De Spell (Ducktales) – Azrael, Hogatha, Lord Balthazar, Chlorhydris (The Smurfs)

Flintheart Glomgold is Uncle Scrooge without the heart or compassion, essentially his evil twin, and Magica De Spell is one of the most entertaining villains in all of cartoons. Whenever Magica popped up on the screen or page, you knew you were in for a great story. The Smurfs, however, are as top heavy as any franchise this side of Daredevil. A Google search reveals antagonists by the name of Hogatha and Balthazar. I can only assume Chlorhydris is something Smurfette occasionally needs a prescription cream to get cleared up. (Which would essentially shut down the nightlife in Smurf village, so I guess Chlorhydris really is their top threat.)

Winner: Ducktales

Animated Series

Ducktales is probably the most consistently well-done and entertaining cartoon of the entire decade (up until the later seasons where they inexplicably added a caveduck and an Iron Man ripoff, and even then those episodes weren’t that bad). The Smurfs is completely unbearable for anyone over the age of four.

Winner: Ducktales

Theme Song

Ducktales is one of the hardest theme songs to remove from your head once it’s wormed its way in. “Life is like a hurricane . . . here . . .in . . . Duck . . .burg.” Its stuck in your head now isn’t it?

Winner: No Contest

Comic Book Series

Ducktales is based largely on the work of Carl Barks, one of the true geniuses of the comic book field, and a legendary storyteller. Many episodes are adapted directly from his comics. Most people might not realize that the Smurfs began in the pages of Belgian comics as far back as 1959. I’m also going to assume that most people would never want to read them.

Winner: Ducktales

ADVANCING TO NEXT ROUND: Ducktales

That does it for the first half of the first round. These matchups ended up being a little bit more lopsided than I had anticipated, but The Smurfs kind of made it in there by default anyway. The next four franchises are much stronger top to bottom, and should provide much more of a challenge to our top contenders.

Who might those top contenders be? Find out in part 2!

Remember these 80s cartoons by watching them on DVD or digitally!

Sep 26, 2014

Age of Apocalypse, Part 4

Age of Apocalypse Pt IV
Travis Hedge Coke




Do we fix things now and build from the damage, or jump back in time and stop it before it all goes bad? This is a classic scifi set up, a standard ethics thought experiment, but it’s still worth plumbing once in awhile, with new scenarios. Everything Gone Wrong is a great setting, especially if what’s gone bad are all things you can get nostalgic about if they weren’t suddenly septic and sickening.

My feeling is that hardship, suffering have never made anyone a better person or improved a place, a government, a calendar or modus operandi. Hurt does not implicitly or on its own help anything or any person. But, showing us everything gone worse, or gone sideways, as a thought, as an explication, can demonstrate by inversion, by revulsion, how well “reality” works, how much we enjoy and why we enjoy the traditional reality or accepted version of things.

Novelty helps us be better people and to enjoy life. As long as the novelty doesn’t become a standard, at least, as that can often be annoying. To which end, I’m shifting it up a bit this time, and providing what I think is the most fitting album to listen to while reading each of these miniseries or the final oneshots which shouldn’t take a whole album each to read.

Astonishing X-Men #4

X-Men vs Holocaust!

I Like: Scott Lobdell knows how to milk soapy emotional moments.

I Dislike: Scott Lobdell doesn’t do characterization so much as have characters or narration say their characterization.

I Don’t Understand: “What? An ice lasso?” - At no point, will ice ever wrap around a person's arms and cause them to think of lasso. Right?

Soundtrack Album: Ed Hunter - Iron Maiden

On the Series: Read it fast, or read it while you’re doing other things. It’s not a comic to be thought about very seriously. There are, however, moments that are entirely grand and should not be missed. So… mixed bag? What you’d expect from the talent and the era? Or just a mixed bag of a comic.


X-Calibre #4

Paradise burns as the Shadow King rises!

I Like: People that count die in this comic. Things that count get broken and won’t get fixed.

I Dislike: Ken Lashley’s layouts, both in-panel and in terms of panels on the page, distract me more than they attract my attention in a functional way.

I Don’t Understand: Why is the art very literal about some more artsy descriptions, like the “video flicker” of the Shadow King in underspace?

Soundtrack Album: Ramones - The Ramones

On the Series: While this is thematically the strongest of all the miniseries, and a strong walking tour of the sort Warren Ellis would later, in a way, be synonymous with as a lover of fictive places and subcultures, X-Calibre is still a little too loose in its pacing. It jerks back and forth between urgent and lecturey without either side building to a strong enough pitch. It is still a worthwhile read, as part of the AoA and on its own, or even better, as an interlude in Warren’s ongoing Excalibur run, which this interrupted. As a glib and brutal rumination on spirituality, faith, and religious need, it has more to say than probably anything else Marvel put out that year. The action bits are brief, sometimes a little perfunctory, but they crackle and they burn hot enough, sincere enough to be exciting even on rereads. Artistic flubs like energy steaming off Mystique’s eyes and fingers, or thuddingly awkward background character designs can’t truly hamper what’s an otherwise vibrant and aggressive adventure story


Gambit and the X-Ternals #4

A baby is kidnapped! A world is ending! Gambit kisses someone! Guido screws up!

I Like: Some of Salvadore Larroca’s best work anywhere, especially in the Jubilee/Guido scene, which is the best written scene in the issue as well.

I Dislike: The title never found its own niche, its own story, despite spending most of the pages way far away from every other AoA book, and this issue just brings that home by opening with another book’s characters and expecting us to care.

I Don’t Understand: “She’s not a firecracker. She’s an atom bomb.” - of Jubilee, who is not an atom bomb. Sorry.

Soundtrack Album: Orphans: Bawlers, Brawlers, and Bastards - Tom Waits

On the Series: I wish I liked this one more, because its a big, splashy, comic about characters I like (Guido, Gambit, Jubes) doing a thing I love (ensemble of thieves steal stuff, get it wrong, struggle to get out alive). It was fun to come back to after more than a decade of not having read, but you can’t go home again, and there’s nowhere for me to get my footing in Gambit and the X-Ternals. Scenes move along beautiful as long as someone has something valuable in their arms, or are chasing something important, but when people stop to stand, or fight, it bugs me. When I slow down to read a full conversation or the many, many narrative captions, I lose the thread of why I’m loving the comic I’m reading otherwise. But if I focus on faces and legs, running and ducking, hope and grief and yearning, all is briefly good.


Generation Next #4

The team finally rescue Colossus’ little sister, but…!

I Like: The Sugar Man’s a nasty fellow, and if the fact he’s a fanged head with many arms sticking out of it didn’t flag that, he does horrible thing after horrible thing. The page layouts are brilliant and so effective.

I Dislike: This could’ve been, basically, issue two, couldn’t it? Makes issues two and three, and most of the first issue feel like a car running on idle while you get out and run up the block to the store, then come back and get in the car again.

I Don’t Understand: The random cell phone caller in the work camp. Why?

Soundtrack Album: Cry For Love - Jimi Hendrix

On the Series: Scott Lobdell can make me feel all warm and fuzzy about characters in one page, and unfortunately, two issues later, I don’t care about them at all. It’s a sort of instantaneous-nostalgia, some twee hipness. That’s in full effect here for all four issues, but even if I’m bemused for a scene, by the time two more scenes have gone by, I’m not holding onto anything from the scene I loved. The love fades fast. Bachalo’s idiosyncratic an intense art helps keep me intrigued for awhile, but even that fades with repeated exposure. Generation Next shouldn’t feel disposable, expendable, but so it does, as if it delivers all it has in any random scene you could select, nothing to the overall, nothing extra in bothering with the whole mini.


Weapon X #4

Logan and Gateway run herd on a fleet of attack ships headed to fight Apocalypse.


I Like: Gateway and Logan are both cool, honorable, determined guys. They’re stand up guys. And, even while they don’t see eye to eye, they do right and do it all the way.

I Dislike: Ends on a hard cliffhanger for the Omega oneshot.

I Don’t Understand: How do the cybernetics get up under all the skin on victims as we see with Carol?

Soundtrack Album: Live in Italy - Lou Reed

On the Series: By far the easiest and most consistent reread for me, of any of the AoA. This ticked every checkmark it possibly could to rock for me. Carol is treated as badass and worthy of her on-paper credentials and job history (plus she rocks more guns and pouches than a 90s Cable). Logan is soulful, self-sabotaging, brutal and beautiful and cool. Jean’s a bit mixed up, a little mad, and big-time hero. Gateway was awesome for one of three times in history that will ever happen. The villains are huge and monstrous. The ethics are real. The romances feel passionate. Every page is indulgent, gorgeous, lively.


Amazing X-Men #4

The rescue of Bishop (who I forgot was captured) and Jamie Madrox (who doesn’t really need to be rescued, but that’s nice).

I Like: Bishop, the heretic, crucified upside down while priests collect his blood in a cup to pour out on the dirt and disgrace him. Jamie Madrox, enchained, cloned a thousand million times into an army, drooling, diapered, cradling an eight ball suggestively in front of his crotch.

I Dislike: The mise en scene is outright awkward. Page layouts are distracting. If you don’t already know what someone’s powers are, the visuals don’t communicate them at all.

I Don’t Understand: Why does Storm fire spirals of green energy from her hands?

Soundtrack Album: Emancipation - Prince

On the Series: Like Amazing, except maybe worse, this series never escaped being piecemeal plot points to motivate a larger story or smaller stories happening more fully in other comics. Why couldn’t the whole thing have been mad religious parody and rescue mission like this one? What’s even the point of the Mags/Rogue baby stuff happening in the other X-Men title, or the Gambit and the X-Ternals stuff bleeding into here?


Factor X #4

Everything falls apart as brothers must decide how to live, and whether to accept the redheaded women who love them.

I Like: The Bedlam Brothers just sounds good. Havok stone cold abandoning Scarlett, pregnant, in love.

I Dislike: Cyclops being somehow a good guy in this. No. He’s participated lockstep with genocide, rape camps, torture and misery. A slight turn of conscience whereby he saves a few people does not erase that.

I Don’t Understand: How can this be this haphazardly structured?

Soundtrack Album: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - Gil Scott-Heron

On the Series: Factor X was cool for being rough, but it’s so roughly hewn and for what? For all the stabs at great themes, or excellent conceits, for the good character dynamics, why was this comic not more concretely structured? It could have been told via the girl reduced to a brutalized wolf chained in a lab, it could have followed Havok as he indulges in human women, nightclubs that fear him, soldiers who hold him as a saint, a brother who hates him and lionizes him. There could have been a narrative flow, an arc or trajectory that thrust us forth through the four issues. Instead, we have this and this and this, this, this too.


X-Man #4

The hero beats his creator to death and meets the folks who aren’t his parents!

I Like: Big, angry, bright comics. The answer to things is smashing them. Smash. Worry. Smashworry!

I Dislike: Jeph Loeb loves nostalgia-strong sudden appearances of characters who mean little to the characters in the story but a lot to us. I like it exceedingly less.

I Don’t Understand: Steve Skroce spends the issue hiding crotches in shadows where they’d be unlikely or drawing very taut packages on his dudes. It’s between superhero-traditional and naturalistic approaches; not sure why he’d bother.

Soundtrack Album: 4-Way Diablo - Monster Magnet

On the Series: Four issues to get us to where a traditional first issue would end, and it’s going to keep going, as this one’s an ongoing while the others wrap up with their fourth. But, if you read them one a month, it’s exciting and brash. Some pages do really explode with fight pow bam, others with a middle finger to the world and a kiss on its lips.


X-Men: Omega

Can the X-Men defeat Apocalypse before they destroy the universe and reset time? Or, will Apocalypse forever be undefeated in a universe that no longer exists?


I Like: Chromey, acetatey cover. Opening splash of Magneto bloodied and an off-page voice telling him to fall down and make it easy on himself. Magneto building his armor around himself as he gets his fighting spirit back. The last page is cool.

I Dislike: The art is all over, serviceable but rarely exciting. There’s a real strain of ugly vs pretty going on that’s a bit dumb. Bishop, Colossus, and Morph basically have the same head and expression just recolored.

I Don’t Understand: Nate’s vocabulary. Where’d he learn all these phrases and references and stuff? We know the dude’s never seen a sitcom.

Soundtrack Album: No Time to Cry - Cradle of Filth


X-Men: Prime

Reestablishing the “real world” X-Men.

If you go by the cover: There are men and women in costumes with powers! The men are all Rrraaaaaaaaawwwr angry and the women smile. Most of them tuck on leg up and keep the other extended.

If you go by the comic inside: It’s more than a bit like that.

I Like: Wolverine and Jean in the rain is pretty. Professor X wearing his Jim Lee jacket with the puffy lapels is always a treat. I like the woman in the wheelchair who shoves a hot poker in Emplate as soon as he walks in her living room.

I Dislike: Beast is drawn repeatedly awkward and off-model. Psylocke and Storm both come off truly weak in this comic. For a collection of vignettes, there’s little to hold them together or let them play off one another.

I Don’t Understand: Why do the X-Men fail to save the guy? Why do they all arrive, either running, driving, or flying, at the same time?

Soundtrack Album: Speak Now - Taylor Swift but it want to be Alice Smith’s She.

Sep 24, 2014

Escher in Comics: Killoffer's OuBaPo Works

Killoffer in OuBaPo

OuBaPo, which stands for Ouvroir de la bande dessinée Potentielle, meaning "Workshop for Potential Comics," is a French movement that is about experimenting with the art form. You can read more about it here.

I'm not as into the experimental stuff as I used to be, preferring, lately, to see any tricks used in a manner that serves the story. One of the things I find fascinating about David Aja's work on Hawkeye, for example, is that he uses a lot of the tricks Chris Ware was using on his shorter strips, and even in Jimmy Corrigan, but there isn't any instance in Aja's work that the Ware-like stuff comes off as contrived; it just serves the story. (I do Ware a disservice here, as he can and usually does make his tricks serve the stories he tells. His depressing, depressing stories. And while I'm at it, can I just say Hawkeye reminds me of PowerPoint presentations? Anyway, moving on...)

All that aside, I do love me some MC Escher. And one of OuBaPo's contributors, Killoffer, also loves MC Escher. So, I don't speak French, but you know, enjoy these.

Click to view in full size.




Images came from here and here.

I found out about OuBaPo and Killoffer via The Essential Guide to World Comics:

Sep 22, 2014

The All-Time Best Superhero Relationships

The All-Time Best Superhero Relationships

I’ve always been far too interested and invested in which fictional characters are kissing or otherwise canoodling with each other. The inspiration for this exploration of my all-time favorite superhero romances came from my friend (indeed, everyone’s friend) Travis. Travis is the pinnacle of what we can hope to achieve as a human species. If you know anyone even named Travis, embrace him now. Kiss him upon the lips if you’re so inclined. Yes, embrace a Travis near you.

Anyway, he was talking about it on the interwebs, so here I am, all inspired.

SUPERMAN AND LOIS LANE

Notice I wrote Superman and not Clark Kent, since Clark is purposefully boring. First of all, he’s a farmer. Next, he’s a straight-laced reporter that wants to maintain a high level of morals. He’s the human equivalent of a warm cup of milk before a regular 8PM bedtime. There’s really no way the high-octane Lois would ever give him a romantic thought without knowing that he’s Superman. That’s what makes this one of the great relationships, Lois ignoring Clark but always trying to trick Superman into marrying her. Superman, of course, always spots the deception early on, but plays along anyway, to teach that silly Lois a lesson. I don’t know what the lesson would be, other than don’t trick people into marriage, which is something most people learn after their first stint in the Army. Maybe the lesson is that Superman’s an asshole.

BATMAN AND ROBIN


What isn’t great about a perpetual mysterious bachelor driven and determined to pursue a never-ending quest for vengeance adopting a rotating cast of nubile young boys, that he quickly casts out the moment they reach a certain age?

SCARLET WITCH AND THE VISION

Surrounded by eligible bachelors like Captain America and Hawkeye, Wanda did what any daughter of a mass-murdering genetic terrorist raised by gypsys would do, she picked the toaster. Even though the Vision’s brain was based on the personality of Wonder Man (who would ever pick Wonder Man for the basis of a personality, only a robot) who was also clearly interested in her, she still picked the synthetic human with a heart of gold. (His actual heart is more likely a bunch of transistors, but he cried once, so that makes it not weird.) She followed that up by using her magic mutant powers to conjure them up some children, but it involved something with demons and Agatha Harkness, and a guy named Pandemonium, a dude with a pentagram-shaped hole in his chest and demons for limbs. I really genuinely love comics.

HANK PYM AND JANET VAN DYNE



Pym met the teenage Janet and was immediately attracted to her because of her remarking resemblance to his dead ex-wife. I shouldn’t really have to explain any further why this is one of comic’s most twisted of romances. Despite his protestations that he wasn’t interested in her, Pym made Janet his superhero sidekick. After years of continuously trying to make him jealous enough to kiss her, Janet finally seizes her opportunity to marry Hank in the middle of one of his nervous breakdowns, accomplishing something that Lois Lane could only dream of. They had a few years of relative bliss before their dysfunctional dynamic led them both to bad places, like size-changing sexual hijinks. Nobody should ever have to see a tiny man emerging from between a woman’s legs covered head to toe in viscous fluids.

HANK PYM AND TIGRA


This is actually the Pym relationship I prefer more, as it’s traditionally been more stable for both of them. Except for the part where they originally hooked up because Tigra was giving in to her feline nature by trying to sleep with half of the West Coast Avengers, but hey, she’s wearing practically nothing but a bikini all day long (she’s pretty much everything I ever dreamed of seeing when I was fourteen years old). Tigra was just looking for some fun, but he completely fell in love on the rebound from his marriage to Janet. They eventually got to the point where she had his cute little furry babies, via a shape-shifting alien appropriating his DNA, but still.

CAPTAIN AMERICA AND SHARON CARTER

I don’t have anything sarcastic to say about these two, I just really like them together. Okay fine, it’s a little weird that he would date the grand-niece of the love of his life from WWII, but it’s still better than Bernie.

NIGHTWING AND STARFIRE

I know almost everyone wants to put Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon together, because Robin and Batgirl, but for my money the real love of his life was the orange-skinned alien from Tamaran. I love that Koriand’r picked Dick to kiss (so that she could absorb the English language) because she thought he was cute. I love that they used to wake up naked in the same bed anytime that Trigon was causing trouble, because what boy hasn’t at one time wished they had a big orange supermodel girlfriend that slept naked? I also love the grade school awkwardness of their relationships in the animated Teen Titans series, both versions. This is the real couple destined to be, so of course DC erases all existence of it in service of the New 52.

SPIDER-MAN AND BLACK CAT

I’ve covered this relationship extensively before, but suffice to say, masked sex is the apex of what we can hope to achieve as a human race.

HAWKEYE AND ANYONE

I love that Hawkeye is in an unspoken contest with Tony Stark and Matt Murdock to see who can sleep with the most female characters in the Marvel universe. Because of his overactive libido, it’s really hard to choose one pairing that I like any more than another. I like them all. They’re all great precisely because you know Hawkeye is only going to screw it up. If forced to choose one at gunpoint (and who hasn’t been forced to do something at gunpoint at least once?) I guess you’d have to go with Mockingbird, if only because she’s the stand in for Black Canary in the Marvel universe, but that’s completely disregarding the allure of Black Widow. Speaking of . . .

BLACK WIDOW AND ANYONE


As much as Hawkeye and Stark might think they’re working their way through the lovely ladies of the Marvel universe, they can’t hold a candle to the ravishing Natasha Romanoff. Hawkeye, Stark, Daredevil, and Bucky are some of her more famous conquests, not to mention that her and Captain America always seem to wind up together in any project outside the realm of comics. Of the available options, I do love the idea of her with Steve in any animated series or the movies, but in the comics her best relationship was with Bucky as the Winter Soldier. Comics tend to get a little simplistic with their romances sometimes (Storm and Black Panther both lived in Africa, so of course they should marry) but this is one case where ‘both abused by Russians’ works for them as a couple. It’s just too bad that Brubaker had to break my heart by breaking them up, before breaking it again by dropping the mic and leaving the Marvel universe forever to make excellent comics with his life partner Sean Phillips. I’ve always appreciated Black Widow as a character, after all, she wears a tight leather catsuit, but I never considered her to be a favorite until the Marvel movies, and especially after Avengers. She’s a favorite now, which I’m sure has absolutely nothing to do with Scarlett Johansson.

Backtracking a bit . . .

Dishonorable Mention – GREEN ARROW AND BLACK CANARY


I like Mockingbird well enough, but not as much as I love her DC counterpart Black Canary. In my favorite stories of Dinah Lance, she’s strong, tough, capable, and independent. So, of course, she’s unfortunately forever linked to one of the single most annoying superhero characters in comic book history, Oliver Queen. Arrow fans, I’m not talking about the cool character you watch every season on that sorta dumb but also very entertaining show. No, this is the comic book version, rocking the Robin Hood look and standing self-righteously on a soapbox of opinions and judgement. What an awful burden of a character. Black Canary deserves much, much better.

KYLE RAYNER AND SORANIK NATU

I’ve never been a big fan of replacement characters, but as part of the explosion of the Green Lantern franchise, I’ve come to appreciate Kyle Rayner (and Guy Gardner for that matter) a lot more than I do Hal Jordan. Similarly, the purple skinned alien Green Lantern role formerly occupied by (the now deceased) Katma Tui was taken over by Soranik Natu, a fun and fiery new character that quickly became a standout of the revitalized corps. Kyle and Soranik was a romance that unfortunately wouldn’t last, but was a highlight of the books for a time. Fortunately, now there’s . . .

KYLE RAYNER AND CAROL FERRIS


Why do I wholeheartedly approve of this? Because Hal Jordan both sucks and blows, that’s why.

THOR AND SIF

Within the very same issue that Stan and Jack decided they had told every story they could tell with Midgard’s Jane Foster, they introduced Sif, an Asgardian and a capable warrior in her own right. Now, instead of the damsel in distress Jane, and the standard stories of star-crossed lovers always kept apart by Donald Blake’s duties as Thor, you had two warriors fighting battles side-by-side (yet Sif did play the damsel in distress a few times herself, times being what they were). Sif is a love interest that works much better in the comics, where Thor spending months or even years in publication time off of Earth is no big deal. She’s also interesting enough to support her own adventures, as proven by the underrated Immonen and Schiti run. I remember Dan Slott once saying about the (at the time) potential Carol Danvers and Peter Parker coupling, that (paraphrasing) Peter dating a superhero would kind of eliminate any need to ever spend time not as Spider-Man, narratively. That’s not as big a problem for Thor, because I’ve always found any secret identity for Thor to be a bigger burden than it is a positive for good storytelling. However . . .

THOR AND JANE FOSTER

I do think Jane works much better as a love interest in the movies and cartoons. The lovers from two different worlds works much better when it doesn’t have the time to get overdone in media adaptations, and Thor needs that reason to spend more time on Earth than he does in Asgard. This worked to great effect in the movie friendly (and perpetually underrated) Thor the Mighty Avengers series as well. Or it could just be that I’m a fan of Natalie Portman. Sue me.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST

I enjoy a heterosexual bromance as much as the next person, and this is arguably the best one in superhero comics (Blue Beetle and Booster Gold might protest, but who would really be around to listen, nobody). The streetwise ex-con from the streets of Harlem, and the blond-haired kung-fu master from a magical city in the Himalayas, are not exactly an obvious formula for besties for life, but it works. Luke Cage is not my beloved Colleen Wing (who I really would be trying to spend all my time with if I were Danny) but he’s been a loyal partner and friend through many entertaining adventures. Luke even named his daughter Danielle, which makes you want to tilt your head and say “aw.”

WOLVERINE AND NOBODY

That’s gross.

KITTY PRYDE AND STAR-LORD

This one is still really new and unrealized, but I love the idea of these two together. Peter Quill is the loveable scoundrel with a heart of gold, and Kitty is the formely annoying kid sidekick that has grown into a strong woman and capable leader, especially under Bendis (say what you will about Bendis, but he generally writes interesting female characters). It’s time Kitty moved on from her creepy and weird history with Colossus, who is also one of the most boring X-Men characters in their history, and developed something new with a much more interesting match. Now that I’ve written all that, I just remembered the disturbing sexual fascination that the internet has with Kitty, and now feel worse about myself.

Creepy sexual fantasies is a good a place to end as any, just ask anyone I’ve ever taken out on a date. If you’re like me and are way to embroiled in the romantic shenanigans of fictional characters, hopefully you enjoyed the public embarrassment I provided to all of you today. If you have any favorite couples of your own that I missed, please keep that to yourself, I don’t want to read about your weird obsessions. Send them to Duy, he loves that stuff. (I’m only kidding, I love comments. At least I think I do, I rarely get any. Sob.)

That’s it, I’m off to cyber-stalk Travis in the hopes of more ideas and inspiration. Next time, something interesting Travis said.

Sep 19, 2014

Edge of Spider-Verse #2: A Review

Edge of Spider-Verse #2: Gwen Stacy: Spider-Woman
A Review
Back Issue Ben

Alternate universes, future landscapes, and “imaginary versions” have existed for almost as long as superhero comics themselves. It’s been a longstanding tradition to take a character we all know and love and change one or more aspects of them, sometimes to prove what works, sometimes to prove what doesn’t.



Growing up a primarily Marvel fan, I was never all that interested in alternate universes or versions of characters. Most of my exposure to alternate versions was in the pages of What If...? (and the answer to that question was almost always, “they’d all die”). The Ultimate universe appeared to attempt this, but was mostly interested in providing updated versions of the same characters we already knew. Eventually they’d try to be more experimental, like killing Peter Parker and replacing him with Miles Morales.

Usually, alternate versions are dreadfully boring or too derivative. Bland takes on the original hero, with one or two changes. The aforementioned Miles Morales is one of the few examples of a character that works on his own merits, and is entertaining in his own right. Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez, over the course of one twenty page comic, manage to create a fully-realized character in Gwen Stacy as Spider-Woman, and a world that you can’t help to want to read more of.

Spider-Gwen isn’t merely Gwen as replacement for Peter Parker, with the same exact troubles and background, “only this time it’s a girl!” Nor is she just the Gwen we already know, only now with powers. Latour and Rodriguez have created a Gwen that feels true to the character we remember, but is also entirely her own character.


This new Gwen masks her pain and failure with humor, which is a very Spider-Man thing to do. The failure that motivates her is similar enough to invoke Uncle Ben, but different enough to not be a distraction. The world around her is intriguing and worthy of further exploration (what is up with slimy Matt Murdock?).


 Plus, who doesn't like an all-girl rock band?


The art by Robbi Rodriguez does a good job of capturing the kinetic, creepy vibe of Ditko’s Spider-Man, yet still retaining its own style. The Spider-Woman costume design is striking and eye-catching, a very sleek interpretation that screams Spider-Man while also being its own thing. The white color scheme really makes it stand out, as beautifully rendered by color artist Rico Renzi.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of alternate versions of characters. It's an incredibly difficult trick to create something that's familiar but can also stand on its own. Ben Reilly and Spider-Man 2099 (to stick with alternate Spider-Men) have been fairly interesting but not enough for me to find them essential to exist. Yet, Spider-Gwen so thoroughly grabbed me in the space of one single issue, I can’t help but clamor for more. From the looks of things across the interwebs, I’m not the only one. If Marvel doesn’t capitalize on that with an ongoing series, or at least a mini-series, it will be a mistake. A huge mistake.

In closing, more Spider-Gwen!

Sep 18, 2014

Age of Apocalypse, Part 3

Age of Apocalypse Pt III
Travis Hedge Coke


Traditionally, this is the part of most stories that nobody cares for. Robert Rodriguez cut this act out of Planet Terror because it’s the bit nobody cares for, the prerequisite set up for a far more interesting climax, still and always balancing things so nothing climaxes too soon, so it can all crescendo together.

But, it does not have to be that way.

X-Universe #1

The human resistance is spread thin around the world, suicidally striving for survival. More an excuse to showcase multiple non-mutant characters than anything.

I Like: All the black people are starving, dressed in rags, pathetic. The white people are fit, well-fed, and often dressed in nice, clean clothes. (That’s probably not intentional.) Donald Blake and Tony Stark look great, thanks to Carlos Pacheco, who draws incredibly attractive men.

I Dislike: The blinding of Matt Murdock, and some other touches that imply certain injuries or motifs from the normative Marvel Universe are inevitable.

I Don’t Understand: How are the Marauders a thing? These Marauders are a team of international assassins. This is Norman Osborne (a scientist and businessman), Wilson Fisk (an emperor of crime), The Owl (a sometimes psychotic gang leader), and Arcade (a delusional assassin). How are they all flying around on magic floaty-shoes, why has Norman “I’m the Green Goblin, goddammit” Osborne got long cornrows going? Why does Fisk have reverse-suspenders that go from belt down his crotch? And, why is Wilson Fisk’s assassin name, “Dirigible”? Did he not oppose this?


Astonishing X-Men #3

The X-Men invade a processing plant for making and armoring up new foot soldiers for Apocalypse. It goes poorly for them.

I Like: It looks fantastic. Sabertooth gets knocked around pretty fierce.

I Dislike: The blood is so dull and thin, the violence doesn’t seem at all real, even though the action part of the punch ups is still good. And, this



 is how Bishop and Magneto debate destroying the entire world and resetting time by twenty years.

I Don’t Understand: How the dual plans of stop Apocalypse and reset reality are supposed to come together. Doesn’t either one sort of make the other not that pressing?


X-Calibre #3

The deranged goodies and the psychotic baddies both make it to the paradisiacal refuge, Avalon. Some of them die and the guns are all huge.

I Like: Ken Lashley’s art has wonderful depth and is perpetually loud. The characters feel like full people, yet they’re all strongly distinct from one another.

I Dislike: Lashley’s work here suffers a few key 90s drawbacks, including Mystique’s hair being almost as tall as she is, and no one ever really standing on the ground as the ground is drawn.

I Don’t Understand: Why this issue is so talky, when it really doesn’t need to be and Warren Ellis is usually canny enough to avoid that.


Gambit and the X-Ternals #3

Gambit and his peeps invade an intergalactic empire to steal a crystal that can destroy existence!

I Like: The cover and the opening two page spread are colorful, exciting, and pretty. Larocca’s work with textures and textiles is fantastic this issue

I Dislike: Charles Xavier being so important is silly. Gambit highlighting how superfluous most of this series has been by flat asking a character, in the third of four issues, to justify the plot for him doesn’t hang a lampshade on it, or whatever, it just makes it feel ridiculous and superfluous.

I Don’t Understand: Why do any of the characters in this issue feel any desire to take the actions they take? Where are the motivations? The personal agendas?


Generation Next #3

The invasion of the labor camp continues, with two of the team impersonating the boss, and others breaking in and skulking around, biding time.

I Like: Chris Bachalo is fearless when it comes to both mise en scene in panels and the layout of each page. People die spontaneously and unexpectedly in Generation Next and that’s very appreciated.

I Dislike: Colosses and Kitty have just been walking around, making kid work, for three issues?

I Don’t Understand: Scott Lobdell is usually strong at doing soap opera style characterization, about people persona-first in his stories. Here, no one seems more than broad strokes and a costume.


Weapon X #3

Logan treks across the ice and snow to fight cyborgs and hook up with Carol Danvers and the mutant known as Gateway.

I Like: Gateway as an intellectual stoner is genius, and finally putting him in something other than a breechclout is huge. Prior to this, and after, Gateway has been a near-naked, almost-always-silent magic ethnic stereotype, and here he’s exploding with personality and a life. Similarly, Carol Danvers comes alive under Larry Hama, and with Adam Kubert drawing her appropriately-dressed and heavily armed, she looks hard as hell.

I Dislike: Occasionally, there’s a sequence of panels that simply flow poorly, and it hurts more because, otherwise, Hama and Kubert knock this one outta the park.

I Don’t Understand: Why Gateway and Carol can’t be written this cool and in charge of themselves all the time.


Amazing X-Men #3

The villains triumph? Magneto defeated? Bishop captured? Quicksilver is… having… feelings? X-Men run! X-Men stand around.

I Like: Kevin Somers’ genius coloring.

I Dislike: I love unique story structures, but this doesn’t seem to be a story so much as a few events that are relatively connected. There’s no flow, no arc, no overarching point. If anything, the issue is over-arcing, throwing balls in the air that I - because this is a reread - know are going to come down in later comics, but without even giving us a strong leaving point or any sense of lingering concern. Halfway through the comic, we literally get a caption that reads “Time passes,” to bridge two scenes. “Time passes” is the dumbest thing to say in the middle of your story since, roughly, the invention of the middle of stories.

I Don’t Understand: Angel has wings (hence, “Angel”). How does he take a jacket off down his back, when he’s got a ten foot wingspan?


Factor X #3

Scott Summers starts developing a conscience, and reencounters Jean Grey. Meanwhile, his brother’s secret squeeze, nightclub singer, Scarlet, is under suspicion, and Scott’s brother, Alex, is reevaluating his life and getting angry.

I Like: It’s very unashamedly soapy.

I Dislike: Rather than just commit to actions, everyone seems to like talking out their thoughts and agendas. “Are you asking me to X?”/“I am asking you to X.”/“I always knew I would X with you.”/“We X together.”

I Don’t Understand: Why are they all acting like they’re twelve? And how does this rebellion work?


X-Man #3

Forge and X-Man fight some people.

I Like: The layouts, generally with three panels to a page, are innovative and inviting. Domino is a badass.

I Dislike: I don’t feel emotionally connected to any of the characters. I’m connected to the action fine, but don’t really care who wins, who dies or not.

I Don’t Understand: The Sinister thing, where disguised and hanging with X-Man and crew. What does it get him?


X-Universe #2

Silly humans try to live free under the oppressive regime of mad mutants. Some find love. Some find… organ harvesting?

I Like: The layouts are dynamic. The red and black motif for Matt’s radar vision looks cool.

I Dislike: Too many people running around just being names and a look. Too many people in hellish situations acting like they’re extras in Tango & Cash.

I Don’t Understand: Why is Ben Grimm always jumping or midair? How did not-Thor, Don Blake, lose all his muscle mass this issue, from last?



X-Calibre takes a sharp turn in its third issue, with one of the villains changing her tune upon seeing the paradisiacal sanctuary with her own eyes, and several characters buying it in unpredictable but reasonable fashion. Weapon X has its share of deaths and developments that, again, shift things up from where we might have thought they were going, introducing Carol Danvers and Gateway and shifting Logan’s basic mission. It plays off the losses and gains of the previous two issues, without being a place-setter for the climax, and is thus satisfactory on its own.

Amazing X-Men is just… well, it's a comic. That is probably the best I can say for it. It has images, in panels, and word balloons, they follow a sequence. But, you could read a summary of the issue and come away with the same thing reading the comic gives.

For its time, the coordination is quite sound. The general quality of the tie-ins, is for its time unprecedented. I’m critical here, because criticism helps build better things down the road. Chastisement has its place, but this probably isn’t it. Which, can be difficult to keep in mind. “How dare you not entertain me to the level I want!” can be an easy statement to come to.

The Age of Apocalypse set up the system for many later big superhero events, from Seven Soldiers of Victory and Infinite Crisis to Secret Invasion. Multiple miniseries running concurrent and covering different bases, glimpses (or long looks) at alternate paths characters and events could have taken, and the hope that at least one mini would stick and become an ongoing title. AoA is probably more important as an event than it is as a story or a comic. The individual comics, or the story collectively, has its ups, for sure, it has some serious shine even now. When I am critical of an issue or title in particular, it’s by reflection of the best of the AoA, not because it’s pure garbage. There is, actually, no truly terrible comics in the AoA package as originally presented at that time. But, as an event, it was hugely influential and proved that these interlocking systems had more strength, that there was money in ancillary minis and fill-in-the-moment oneshots.

It isn’t just about there being money in this arrangement. Money is good, but if you were up for money, comics wasn’t - even in those heady hand over fist days - the best place to stick around. AoA demonstrated that a level of interweaving between titles, an elegance of structure that no one had risked before was not only possible, but could be addicting. I seriously doubt many fans were only picking up X-Universe or Factor X. People read the individual titles, but more honestly, we read the Age of Apocalypse.

Next time: Who will end the world! And will the baby die first!?!


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