Sunday, April 20, 2014

Batman: Battle for the Cowl Companion

Title: Batman: Battle for the Cowl Companion

ISBN: 9781401224950
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2009
Artist: Tom Mandrake, Jim Calafiore, Jeremy Haun, Pablo Raimondi, Don Kramer, Mark McKenna
Writer: Royal McGraw, Joe Harris, David Hine, Chris Yost, Fabian Nicieza
Collects: Batman: Battle for the Cowl Specials: Arkham Asylum, The Network, Man-Bat, Underground and Commissioner Gordon

Rating: 3/5

I enjoyed the stories in the Batman: Battle for the Cowl Companion, but indeed that's just what they are -- stories. The five specials collected here range from closely or tertiary connected to Batman: Battle for the Cowl, all the way to advertisements for other comics entirely; there's not a bad one in the bunch, but you hardly need this companion to understand Battle for the Cowl.

Both the "Commissioner Gordon" and "Underground" chapters intersect directly with Battle for the Cowl. In Battle, Gordon mentions his "run-in" with Mr. Freeze, and indeed this is that run-in. Chris Yost's "Underground" -- apparently what we call Batman's villains these days -- answers my earlier question as to what became of Catwoman during Battle for the Cowl; I'm not sure the timeline of the two stories quite fits, but Catwoman running in to Black Mask (whom she believes she murdered) and the post-Countdown to Final Crisis reunion of Harley Quinn and sometime-Catwoman Holly Robison are both great moments.

Unexpectedly, my favorite of the stories was "Arkham Asylum." The story is an unabashed lead-in to writer David Hine's forthcoming Arkham Reborn miniseries, but it also takes on the concept of insanity, imprisonment, and the meaning of asylum with striking seriousness. Through the narration of Jermiah Arkham, Hine introduces three fascinating inmates -- one obsessed with his own looks, one so ugly her face drives men insane, and with no face other than what he himself draws -- and the detailed description of Arkham's treatment of the inmates is equally interesting. The cliffhanger ending comes seemingly out of nowhere, but it does its job -- whereas I might otherwise have skipped that miniseries, now I'm curious to see what happens next.

"Man-Bat" and "The Network" round out the book. Joe Harris's "Man-Bat" makes good use of Dr. Phosphorus, last seen in the recent Batman: Detective stories, and also references Man-Bat's wife Francine's ties to the Outsiders, but the story also ends on a cliffhanger which I'm not sure where, if ever, will be followed up. Fabian Nicieza's "The Network" -- as strange a name as "The Underground" -- works as a Birds of Prey story in that Oracle gets the spotlight, though his ultra-violent characterization of the Huntress is largely outdated. There's also a suggestion in the story that former Bird of Prey Misfit is ill, though again it's hard to know if that's something that will be continued elsewhere.

The Battle for the Cowl Companion spotlights a good cross-section of the Batman universe, and each of the stories has a fair or twist at the end; I also appreciated reading a selection of writers I wasn't familiar with. Most of these stories are pretty well disconnected from the main Batman events, however; either they don't branch well from Battle for the Cowl or it's unclear where they're meant to fit elsewhere in the DC Universe. Inasmuch as one might have thought DC would have learned their lesson by now, these seem to be fairly needless crossover issues, banking on rather than adding to Battle for the Cowl. The saving grace indeed is only that they're all surprisingly well written; otherwise this volume might not get the recommendation that it does.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Batman and Son

Title: Batman and Son

ISBN: 9781401212414
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2007
Artist: Andy Kubert
Writer: Grant Morrison
Collects: Batman #655-658, 663-666

Rating: 3/5

This, in a word, great, though not perhaps the volume I would give a first-time Batman reader (save that for Batman: Detective). Morrison is steeped here in Batman coolness, and there's much to savor--from the straight-up superhero action of the main storyline, the short Joker prose story, the more esoteric "Black Casebook" two-parter, and the final Elseworlds epilogue--but the variety of writing styles might jar a casual reader.

Letting alone, Morrison's writing is at times as super-heroic as it is metaphoric. There's an extended sequence with Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and the Joker in the first few pages which serve more thematically than anything else (where Gordon, in true Morrison style, speaks to the reader), and it's hard to miss the meta-interpretive background when Batman fights ninja Man-Bats in a museum full of pop art.

I was most taken in this volume not by the "Batman and Son" storyline, which has classic elements in its own right, but more by "The Clown at Midnight" and "The Black Casebook." "Casebook"--apparently part of Morrison's larger Batman arc--begins with a match between Batman and a Bane-like figure; Morrison's take on a Knightfall-haunted Bruce Wayne is remarkably compelling. Even moreso is Morrison's new Joker novella, with images by John Van Fleet, which is unquestionable supposed to put one in mind of Morrison's Arkham Asylum. The end to "Clown" comes a little quick, but there are more than enough scary bits along the way.

Morrison has famously referred to his take on Batman as the "hairy-chested Neal Adams love god"; think, perhaps, Bruce Wayne crossed with James Bond, a reference Morrison makes in the story (only, Wayne remarks, "much cooler"). Indeed, the Bruce Wayne here, in relationships both with Talia and new character Jezebel Jet, is lustful--if not loving--and also a bit naive--he can't quite believe Talia would risk the life of her own child.

More importantly, in our post-Infinite Crisis world, we see a Bruce Wayne concerned with things like whether Robin knows that Bruce is proud of him. Whereas previously we had the sense that Batman's partners were a means to an end in his war on crime, we now get the sense that his partners are his end--that is, his war on crime is for the purpose of keeping Alfred, Tim, Selina, and the rest safe. This is a Bruce Wayne, as in the Batman movies, which has a soft spot for people who do good and seems eager to find the good in everyone, and he's far more readable than Batmen past.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Marvel Zombies 3

Title: Marvel Zombies 3

ISBN: 9780785135265
Price: $15.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2009
Artist: Kev Walker
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Collects: Marvel Zombies 3 #1-4

Rating: 2/5

There exist soft spots in our world - where reality stretches paper thin and sometimes unknown forces from outside our universe can slip through.  One such place is a swamp in Florida where a pair of super zombies crawls out of the muck and eat a bunch of hicks.

The official Florida super team “The Command” (sponsored by the Fifty-State Initiative after the events of Civil War) investigates and are quickly dismantled by zombies.  Now it's up to Michael Morbius (the Living Vampire) working for A.R.M.O.R. to discover a cure before our world succumbs to the super plague.  His only hope - to get a living human blood sample from the original dimension of the plague.  Now Machine Man and Jacosta must travel to a world overrun by the evil dead while back at home A.R.M.O.R. is under siege!

Van Lente writes good dialogue and has a comprehensive story, some lame old characters get eaten, introduces zombie Deadpool.

Land's covers are not as good as Suydam's, a lot of third-rate characters no one cares about, hefty price tag for only four issues of material, not a big fan of Machine Man's post-Nextwave (Warren Ellis) attitude adjustment

This story ups the stakes by having the super zombie plague show up in the real Marvel universe.  It's short at only four issues (and pricey), but actually written fairly well.  The art is mildly decent, but no major characters are featured which downgrades significance.  Van Lente brings back the horror-movie suspense by offing a few minor characters right in the beginning and setting a creepy tone. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

ECCC 2014 - My Experiences

Well, another con has come and gone for the Pacific Northwest. I'm happy to have been able to come back to Seattle this year after having to miss last year. Some general observations before I get into my experiences.

1- This has been the biggest comic con I've ever attended. As much as I don't concern myself too much with the thought that some nut-job could easily turn this into a horrible event, actions like the Boston marathon make some people wary. I saw a post on the ECCC Facebook post around this specific topic, and it made me think. I'm thinking that a comic con would be considered a "soft" target but with the number of people in attendance, it would be a horrible situation. Consider also that there are celebrities at this event, and you've got the makings of something that would make the national news.

2- This year, ECCC decided to create their own app in lieu of using the Guidebook app. Not sure why this decision was made, but I found the app very slow and useless. I utilized my paper guide more than the app... and I've never really had to use it before. That speaks to the enormity of the event as well as the usefulness of the app.

3- There were so many people trying to sell badges outside of the convention center. Even though I had my badge clearly hanging around my neck, there were guys asking me if I needed one. Too many people were also buying badges off of people only to turn around and sell them for a profit. Don't get me wrong, I am a capitalist in a capitalist society, but some people really need to improve their methodology of sales. It was a minor annoyance, but one I felt needed to be brought up.

4- With as big as the convention was, I was not able to take in nearly as much as I wanted to. I didn't do any extraneous buying outside of picking-up the exclusive comics being offered. Between that and running around for signatures, I had little time for anything else while I was there. This is as much a problem with the size of the event as it is with my plan of action for getting everything I wanted to done. To that end, I'm thinking that if I come back to ECCC, I'll need to make better plans such as coming a day earlier and staying a day longer. This will be determined by my finances over anything else.

As for my personal experiences at this years con...

Of everyone I brought comics for signatures, I wasn't able to see Jim Lee (Little surprise there as my train arrived in Seattle after noon with little time for me to get to my hotel, prepare, get to the convention center, get a ticket at the DC booth and then get in line for the signing), Scott Snyder (Every time I went by Scott's table, he was either not there or swamped with people with a minion at the end of the line with a sign saying to come back in 5 mins.) and Gail Simone (I just couldn't find her.)

My biggest goal for the con was to collect additional signatures in my Walking Dead 100 Project trade. Of the 17 artists who were in attendance, I was able to collect signatures from 11 of them. It seems as though Karl Kesel decided not to attend. Everyone else I either couldn't find or they were in another area of the con that I didn't get a chance to get to.

As I was collecting signatures for my Walking Dead trade, I did receive a couple of comments about getting all the signatures and how several of the artists weren't even aware that the covers had been collected in a trade. Not sure I'll ever be able to collect every signature, but I'll give it my all.

All-in-all, I did enjoy myself even though I didn't get through the entire con, take in any panels, do any shopping, or get some good "chat time" with anyone. As I mentioned earlier, I'm not sure I'll come back to ECCC. I'm looking forward to Rose City Comic Con in September, but next we have the first Cherry City Comic Con in May.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Kick-Ass 2

Title: Kick-Ass 2

ISBN: 9780785152460
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2013
Artist: John Romita Jr.
Writer: Mark Millar
Collects: Kick-Ass 2 #1-7

Rating: 3/5

If you only know Kick-Ass from the movie, you don't know Kick-Ass. The comic is a whole other animal, and neither the relatively light mood nor feel-good ending of the film were taken from the original pages written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita Jr. Frankly, I'm not sure how much of this sequel book can even make it to the movie screen -- it's brutal, vicious stuff. Some of the characters, so easy to like under those warm Hollywood lights, have pretty awful things happen to them here, and you might walk away from this book a little sick to your stomach.

That said, it's a sure bet that, if ordinary people in the real world suddenly started dressing like superheroes and tackling villains the way they do here, then this is probably the sort of thing that would happen to them, as well as those around them. Crooks in the real world don't play by comic-book rules.

In Kick-Ass 2, our hero Dave (Kick-Ass) was being trained by 11-year-old Mindy (Hit-Girl) to be a better street fighter -- until she got grounded by her stepfather, who has an unreasonable bias against having his daughter out on the front lines killing criminals. Now, Dave is living the dream -- a member of Justice Forever, a group of like-minded heroes who want to help people however they can.

But then the former Red Mist -- I won't utter his new code name here -- comes back with an army of thugs and a thirst for revenge, and things turn really ugly very fast.

This book is well written and well-drawn. It's a pleasure to read in part because it's not like many other titles on the market -- certainly, you won't see these sorts of developments in an Avengers or Justice League book. Be warned, though, it's not for kids.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits

Title: John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits

ISBN: 9781563891502
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 1996
Artist: William Simpson
Writer: Garth Ennis
Collects: Hellblazer #41-46

Rating: 3/5

For those unfamiliar with series, it deals with the character John Constantine, a trench-coated Liverpudlian transplanted to London who dabbles -- quite successfully, usually -- in various arcane arts. He deals with demons, consorts with angels, argues with ghosts and generally involves himself in supernatural goings-on that sane people should avoid. If he sounds like someone who'd be fun to know, bear in mind that most of the people he calls friends seem to end up dead ... often under horrible, and likely quite painful, circumstances.

Constantine is also a chain smoker. It was, perhaps, an affectation of early artists; it looks suitably atmospheric to have him lighting up in tense moments or tossing his smoldering butts in the face of danger. But smoking, as we all know in this enlightened age, has its price. And in Dangerous Habits, Constantine -- not yet 40 years old -- learns that he is dying of lung cancer.

Suddenly, his magic doesn't seem quite so magical. Walking life on the edge is one thing, but knowing you're about to be pushed over that edge is another.

The manner in which Constantine approaches his condition, and the method by which he eventually attempts to change it, is at times a white-knuckled page turner. It's also funny, and heart-warming, and annoying. There are times you want to give John a good belt to the jaw, and there are times you want to shake his hand and buy him a pint.

Ennis' writing is incisive and passionate, witty and deep. He gives us a Constantine who is at the same time fiercely self-reliant and extremely needy, indestructible and vulnerable, equally insensitive and loyal to his friends. The small touches (like another passenger's breakfast while crossing the Irish Sea and Constantine's final salute to his unwilling benefactors) give the story a kind of breadth rarely seen in comics. And Ennis' presentation of Satan (in various incarnations) and at least one earthbound angel are ... well, somewhat startling.

There are two particularly memorable, emotional subplots in this collection. One involves Matt, an aging fellow cancer sufferer, and the other introduces us to Brendan, an Irish wizard of sorts and a friend of Constantine's who, above all else, loves a good pint of Guinness. (Well, he is Irish, after all.)

Of course, comics are ultimately a graphic medium, and the finest story is lost without solid artwork. Although Ennis' writing would later be better paired with artist Steve Dillon (in later runs of Hellblazer and the even more disturbing series, Preacher), this run was handled admirably by William Simpson. The characters are just to one side of looking perfectly realistic, their facial expressions are vivid and evocative, and the backgrounds are suitable for whatever setting Constantine finds himself in, be it grungy downtown London, rural Ireland or various points of Hell on Earth. Inkers including Mark Pennington, Tom Sutton and Malcolm Jones III completed the picture, making this all in all an engrossing read.

Staunchly religious readers might be uncomfortable with some aspects of the book, and they may find their beliefs handled at times in unflattering ways. Then again, the occult nature of the Hellblazer series should probably keep those readers away in the first place.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Oddities in the collection

I've noted in the past of my previous desire to have an X-Men collection, and I'm still working to complete my Marvel G.I. Joe collection; but recently I've been thinking about a couple of odd characters that I loved from my childhood and how I'd like to collect their appearances.

The first of which would be Howard the Duck. I was first introduced to Howard from the movie back in 1986. I had a couple posters and a few of the comics when I was younger, but they are since gone and I'll have to start from ground zero.


The other is Peter Porker aka Spider-Ham. My introduction to Spider-Ham was through the "What the?!" series. I remember having a few issues of "Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham" and enjoying the heck out of them.

I used to have a collection of Marvel "Groo the Wanderer" as well, but I'm not sure I'm going to try re-collecting them just yet. I once had a few of the "Cerebus the Aardvark" trades, which I am sorry to have parted with. I don't think I'll ever collect the individual issues, but I'd love to get the trades again.

Do/Did you have any oddities in your collection? I know there are some who collect nothing but specific characters rather than titles.