Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blackest Night #6: My Fears Were Unwarranted

I've mentioned this before, but the way the CBR review team selects comics to review is in a kind of "draft" format. We each pick a comic to review, pick another one for round two, and then since some of us review more than others, we pick whatever's left as a "free-for-all," naming the books we'll write about. We try to mix it up so the same people aren't always reviewing the same comics, but a lot of it depends on what's available, whose local shop gets which comics, what's available via preview pdfs, and what people are willing to shell out money for. Because I had to pay for that terrible Scott Ian/Sam Kieth "Lobo" comic, I didn't end up making much money from the review, for example.

I mention all this because even though there was only a single new release this week to "draft," and even though CBR commissioned two reviews for it, I decided to pass on reviewing "Blackest Night" #6.

In the past month or two, I've reviewed a couple of Geoff Johns comics, and I've given them some of the most negative reviews I've ever given a Johns comic. Anyone who reads this blog, or my CBR columns, knows that I'm a supporter of Johns's work. I like his straightforward, forward-thinking plot structures. I like his pacing. I like the way he knows how to bring in the superhero spectacle.

But the last arc in "Adventure Comics" was a disaster. "Flash: Rebirth" has stumbled. And the most recent "Green Lantern" issue was the worst one so far.

And between all of that and my increasing Blackest Night fatigue -- (Really? Just more zombies and more punching of zombies? That's it?) -- I decided that I wouldn't be the right guy to review the newest issue of "Blackest Night." I just wasn't in tune with what Johns was doing lately. It was a case where a review of "Blackest Night" from me at this point would just be setting the comic up for a negative review. I have no interest in continually attacking a comic or a creator.

But I was wrong about this. "Blackest Night" #6 is event comics done right. It wasn't that I was finding Geoff Johns comics annoyingly shallow. It wasn't that I had Blackest Night fatigue, it was that these other comics just weren't very good.

In this issue of "Blackest Night," John Stewart flies up with an entire planet of Black Lanterns chasing after him. That single image by Ivan Reis is much more effective that the entire plot of the recent "Green Lantern" issue where he's fighting them off. And "Blackest Night" #6 doesn't even have a lot of plot, but it has dramatic moments -- the heroes assembling, the "deputies" rising into action, with rainbow spendor.

Yeah, "Blackest Night" is goofy, melodramatic fun. But this issue proves that it is fun. And this is the kind of stuff Geoff Johns does right. Big-time superhero spectacle. Cosmic insanity. Comics.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Splash Page: Comics and Wrestling, Because We Like Tight Pants Part 1

Remember when Chad Nevett and I used to write a weekly column for That site will return one day, I'm told. Or maybe not. But then we did this Splash Page stuff on our blogs and even at CBR this summer. It's pretty much all I ever post here at Geniusboy Firemelon these days, but I'll make that up to you sometime. I'll buy you a nice present or something. Until then, read this week's installment, which is mostly about how much we hate fans. Makes us seem like a couple of jerks if you ask me. Which is probably true. Jerks who are correct, though.

Chad Nevett:
In this edition of the Splash Page, I'm not exactly sure what to expect since it's a bit more broadly conceived than usual. I want to talk about wrestling and comics. As many who pay attention to what I write know, I'm a big wrestling fan and write for the wrestling section of in a few different ways. Recently, I pissed some people off (while amusing others) by dedicating one of my weekly random thoughts posts at Comics Should be Good to wrestling but paid lip service to comics in the process. Tim, as many probably don't know, recently attended a live WWE event as, apparently, his son has become a fan of wrestling and, like the good dad that he is, Tim has tried to participate in that interest when possible. So, we've got a big fan and a dad who may or may not hate it... and we've got comics. I don't know how this will all fit together, but let's see anyway.

I've never actually understood the disdain or attitude that some comics fans direct toward wrestling since the two don't strike me as that dissimilar, particularly superhero comics. Both revolve around people fighting, often dressed in outlandish or odd attire, there are good guys and bad guys... even the fans are similar in the way they behave and discuss their respective choices of entertainment. Actually, the similarity in fans is where I first made the connection, so it seems really weird for comics fans to be so down on wrestling. What's your take on wrestling so far, Tim? I imagine it's mostly just been WWE programs you've seen. Do you find it to be 'entertainment for morons' as some do?

Tim Callahan: As I read the backlash against your talk of wrestling in your "Random Thoughts" on CSBG, I couldn't help but wonder: would wrestling fans freak out if you spent part of a wrestling column talking about comics? I'm not sure that they would. So that would seem to make wrestling fans more open and accepting than comic book fans. Just throwing that out there. It's all speculation of course, but since you do write a wrestling column, you should try it out and see if comic book fans are the more closed-minded of the two.

With that said, after seeing WWE Live, I'd have to say that I'd rather hang out with comic book fans any day. You know those stereotypical comic book guys? Those ones with the sweatpants and fanny packs and beards who can wax poetic about Englehart's Avengers all day? I'll hang out with them every day for a year before I'll hang out with the wrestling fans at the Times Union Center in Albany. These people -- this mass of kids and adults -- were rude and dumb. Little kids and their parents shouting "you suck" over and over. People paying $10 a pop for glowsticks just so they can hold up an "X" sign for Triple H. "Beat the Shit Out of Him" clarion calls from the crowd.

The guy behind me was the best, though. With his wife and two little boys. He swore constantly, berated his wife when she said that Randy Orton was "just a character," and then told his son to calm down while he, himself, was yelling and screaming at Randy Orton, calling him a "wannabe has-been." Then he insisted on telling the Miz, loudly, that he was not, in fact, awesome. As if this dude was the voice of reason.

To be fair, I didn't get any beer spilled on me, so the crowd was better than the average Fenway Park horde, but this is the level of idiocy I don't understand regarding wrestling: Sheamus got DQ-ed in the main event, giving John Cena the victory in the bout for the World Championship. Now I've only seen like three episodes of Smackdown and/or Raw in my life (all of which in the past two months as my son has grown increasingly obsessed with wrestling), but even I know that a title can't change hands as the result of a disqualification. And is John Cena really going to win the title at an untelevised house show in Albany? Of course not.

Yet the crowd was ecstatic when Cena won, as if they saw something magical. And then when the announcer explained that he couldn't win the title that way, they booed and booed and jumped up and down as if this was shocking news.

So are all these people in the crowd so stupid that they don't actually understand what it is that they're watching? I mean, they have the "You Can't See Me" hats and the DX t-shirts and the glowsticks and yet they don't understand how the shows work? Or are they playing along, like those people who dress up and sing along to Tim Curry in those midnight "Rocky Horror" shows?

Because, from an up close perspective, these wrestling fans -- or the vast majority of them -- seemed mean and dumb.

CN: I've been to a couple of live WWE events (a taping of "Smackdown" and this year's "Royal Rumble") and had a great time at both. The yelling and chants are part of the experience -- like amped up behaviour at a sporting event. Some people can go a bit over-the-top, but the audience's participation is part of the performance. The example you cite, that the title won't be dropped at a house show is good: it won't be, but what fun is it if everyone watches the match with that attitude? Part of the live show is getting into it a bit and putting that energy out there in order to get the best performance out of the wrestlers. It's not fun if you act completely logical. Cena wins, you cheer; he doesn't get the belt, you boo. It's what's expected and the audience should play its role when possible.

I can understand not being into that especially since I'm usually more subdued than the average fan as well. But, you're right, some people do get far too into it and say stupid things or take it too seriously... but, how is that different from comic fans? Having been on both comic and wrestling sites, there's little difference between the two, honestly. Maybe that's an interet thing, but take a trip over to CBR's forums and read the comments to 411mania articles and watch as the rudest, most narrow-minded people come out. It's a fan thing.

(My favourite live experience was at the "Royal Rumble," by the way, where one of the matches was fan-favourite face (good guy) Jeff Hardy against Edge, a heel (bad guy), for the WWE Championship. Now, Edge is Canadian and we Canadians are notorious for cheering our countrymen no matter what their status is (face/heel) and I'm a big fan of Edge, not a fan of Jeff Hardy, in addition to that face. So, I freaked this little kid in front of us out by cheering for Edge and booing Jeff Hardy. He could NOT believe that someone could like Edge and hate Hardy. We had fun with it as he cheered louder for Hardy in response to my booing...)

Then again, there are different 'levels' of wrestling fandom, usually separated by the terms 'marks' and 'smart marks/smarks' (though, 'marks' isn't used really except in cases like this too much). Marks are the people who buy into it, while smarks are the people who see it for the fiction that it is, but appreciate it for who gets pushed, how good a match is, and stuff like that. I know that I tend to watch wrestling in an oddly metafictional way where I'm usually commenting on how well something is done, if a storyline makes sense, why one wrestler is getting pushed with a lot of victories, while another is being buried... Watching it the way that I tend to read more than anything.

To Be Continued at GraphiContent!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Splash Page: "Dark Reign" and Stuff I Don't Care to Talk About

Here's what happened: Chad Nevett bet me a dollar that I couldn't keep the conversation to just plot and character. And he won that bet pretty handily. Who they hell can just talk about the characters and the plot all the time? These things aren't really happening. These characters are not real people.

I will never pay him that dollar, though.

Oh yeah, the discussion started on Chad's blog, and continues below:

CN: In "Dark Reign," I pretty much only saw what happened in the Bendis titles, "Secret Warriors," and "Dark Reign: Zodiac" with random issues of other titles thrown in for reviewing purposes, but you got a wider view, I assume. How do you think the event played out beyond the stuff I read?

TC: I don't really know. I read "Punisher" and that used "Dark Reign" to brilliant effect, I thought. (Even to the point of Norman Osborn getting so annoyed at Frank Castle that he had him chopped to bits.)

But besides the stuff that you cite above, I don't know how it's really affected anything. "Thunderbolts" was interesting for a little while, as we had double and triple agents in play, but I dropped that series once it crossed over with "Deadpool" and became terrible. "Amazing Spider-Man" has barely been impacted, beyond the "American Son" storyline, which was decent enough. Obviously the space stuff with "Nova" and "War of Kings" hasn't been impacted at all. Neither has the X-Men stuff, really. I mean, there was the Utopia crossover, and I guess that could have been sparked by the Osborn-in-power plot, but it could have happened without it.

Let's step back, though, and look at the bigger picture. "Dark Reign" has given us plenty of comics with Norman Osborn and company flying in and stirring up trouble, but what has Osborn and his crew actually accomplished so far? They haven't really accomplished anything, have they? Are they just the mechanism through which Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man can again be best buddies? Is that all this has been about for the past year? Because that's clearly what it's building towards.

CN: He had the Punisher killed. And... yeah, he didn't really do much. He had some good talks with the Sentry. For all of the talk about how things got worse with him in charge, Osborn didn't really abuse his power in any extreme ways. He acted like a jerk at times and made deals with some bad people, but other than that... Though, "Uncanny X-Men" did cross over with "Dark Avengers" and was a big part of "Dark Reign" during the summer. His impact on the mutant community is probably the biggest thing that came out of "Dark Reign" aside from setting up the Holy Trinity of Avengers to reunite. It's almost likes Osborn was a means to an end rather than a driving force.

For all of the talk about there being too much Norman Osborn, do you think that was the case? As you pointed out, a good chunk of the Marvel universe barely interacted with him. He was mostly confined to the Avengers family of titles -- or are the Avengers the same as the Marvel universe at this point?

TC: I don't think there was too much Norman Osborn in the end. There was just enough. I mean, he's the big bad of the entire universe right now, so his presence should be felt almost everywhere, even if he's not doing anything or showing up at all.

Maybe his ineffectual "Reign" is a commentary on all positions in government. That even a really bad guy can't get anything done with all the hoops and red tape.

What do you think about "Dark Reign" coming to an end? Are you looking forward to this big Asgardian climax to the whole thing?

CN: The Asgardian plot (and the way the story apparently begins) doesn't have me too enthused, but I am looking forward to another Bendis-driven story. He's been the driving force behind "Dark Reign," so I like that there will be a consistent tone and voice and the characters will continue to sound and act like they have this past year. Nothing would be more annoying for "Dark Reign" to have characters acting one way and "Siege" having them act another. Also, I'm still holding out hope that Noh-Varr will show up and do something that proves me wrong for being so disappointed/frustrated. I am such a sucker.

One big thing I'm looking forward to is the promised revelation regarding the Sentry where Bendis has promised to lay all of his cards on the table and tell us the whole truth about the character. I've rather liked his work with the character (despite it not matching up entirely with the original mini-series) and am glad that we're finally going to get the whole story. A lot of people don't like the character and I don't understand why. He's a terrifying character and one that fits well into the Marvel universe, a universe of horribly flawed gods where the more power someone has, the crazier they seem to be. I think his power level would probably suit him better in the cosmic setting where he would fit in better, but, otherwise, I dig him a lot. Mentioning the cosmic thing just made me realise that the most obvious 'past Sentry story that we all forgot happened' is to do a Jim Starlin-esque bit where the Sentry travels the universe (as Superman has a few times) and goes through some trippy mindscape stuff by teaming up with Adam Warlock or something. Hot damn, I love that idea. Screw it, bring back Jim Starlin and have him write the Sentry. I'd like that, I think.

TC: The Sentry is widely hated because he only ever does two things: (1) shows up as a deus ex machina, or (2) runs off crying. So if Bendis can make the character more than that, then, yeah, that's some kind of victory.

I liked the Jae Lee art on the Sentry's original series, but that's about it. I would have preferred the Rick Veitch version. Too bad that never got off the ground.

And, hell yeah, let's see the character do some space trippy stuff with Adam Warlock. I'd be all about that action. (I don't think that's going to happen, though. I think the "lay all the cards on the table" will be something far more mundane.)

I am curious to see what Marvel does post-"Asgard Attacks." Quesada wants the company to take a breather and just tell classic stories set in the Marvel Universe, with no major events. That sounds good to me, but it's been so long since the comics have been that way, that I wonder which series will thrive and which series will falter because of it. Seems like Bendis needs these kinds of uber-plots in his Marvel stuff, even if he's designing them, but he has shown in "Ultimate Spider-Man" that he's much better when he doesn't have to worry about event-thinking. And clearly Brubaker has kept "Captain America" churning along quite nicely without paying any attention to the events in the mainstream Marvel U once Cap died. His only stumbling block has been the release schedule of "Reborn," and how it doesn't line up with the return of Steve Rogers elsewhere. That's annoying, but hardly his fault.

What writers and series do you think will thrive in a no-more-events-for-a-while kind of status quo?

CN: Bendis's Avengers book(s) should thrive, I hope. I'm really looking forward to Matt Fraction on "Thor." I know, I've been down on Fraction a bit lately, but his work on the character previously has me convinced that this run will be nothing but solid gold. Honestly, I'm still struggling to think of what titles are heavily affected by "Siege" (or any events) that a lack of events will make them a lot better. Maybe a freer status quo will lend itself to a general feeling of creative freedom throughout the company where writers won't worry about what's going on anywhere else and just go wild. Maybe we'll get a return to an earlier-in-the-decade-Marvel level of quality. Wouldn't that be something?

TC: I'm sure the plots and characters will be improved all around.

That was my pathetic attempt to circle around to the beginning. Let's never talk about just plot and character again, okay? (Ever.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thoughts on James Cameron and "Avatar"

So we all went to see "Avatar 3D" today (and by all, I mean Television's Ryan Callahan (@TheTVRC), my wife, my son, and I -- my daughter didn't want to see it, and she would have been bored and restless anyway). Here are some thoughts.

1. TheTVRC pointed out that James Cameron's movies tend to age poorly because he's always right on the cutting edge of new cinema technology. That is true. And it will surely be true for "Avatar" as well, though it looks pretty damn good for a movie that's so CGI-heavy.

2. TheTVRC also pointed out that the movie (SPOILER, of sorts) features a literal deus ex machina, so there's that.

3. My son gave a thumbs up during the movie and an even bigger one at the end. His verdict: it's the best movie he's EVER seen. (He's 8, but he's seen a lot of movies.)

4. My wife had a headache afterward.

5. As the aliens-as-American-Indian thing became more and more clear (and I joked about this being "Pocahontas in Space" based on the trailer, but I didn't realize how James Cameron didn't even try to make up an alien culture, except superficially), I thought to myself, "if Wes Studi shows up as the tribal chief, that would be perfect." Wes Studi IS the tribal chief, and it's perfect. I mean that sarcastically. Because it's dumb as hell to be so on-the-nose.

6. "Unobtainium" is what the bad corporate guys are trying to obtain. On. The. Nose.

7. Giovanni Ribisi plays the Paul Riser role, though his future fashion sense is slightly better than Paul Riser's future fashion sense.

8. If we did not watch the movie in 3D, I'm not sure I would have sat through the whole movie. The first hour is just setting the scene, over and over and over. It's a Disney 3D attraction of "Alien Landscape." Minus the 3D, what is the appeal of hour one?

9. The final battle is pretty damn awesome, though. Really awesome.

10. The movie's pretty clearly about the insurgents slaughtering American soldiers, which is shocking for a big Christmas release. The audience literally clapped at the end.

11. There is not one twist or turn in this entire movie. The plot line is straight.

12. But that final battle IS awesome, as I said. The last 30 minutes makes up for the first two hours of Mr. Jimbo's not-so-wild 3D ride.

Here's Where I Scoff at Others

Brian Cronin's democratically-created list of the Best Comic Book Storylines Ever has fully revealed itself. And now I have to scoff at some entries, because they deserve it:

"Age of Apocalypse" at #12? Yeah, this was a great storyline, at making me stop reading about the X-Men.

"Under Seige" at #17? A bunch of bad guys attack Avengers mansion? Oh, it was a whole lot of bad guys? Well, then I guess it does deserve to be in the top twenty.

"Civil War" at #18? If you've been following me on Twitter, you know my son has just started reading this series because of his interest in the "Ultimate Alliance 2" game. The jury's out on whether he likes it or not. But as one of the best storylines of all time? Even if he thinks so, he is wrong.

Millar's "Ultimates" and Meltzer's "Identity Crisis" tie at #26? It's appropriate that they tie, because they both make superheroes sexed up and trashy. But they aren't very good.

"Infinity Gauntlet"? Even Chad Nevett didn't vote for it.

"Secret Wars"? "Hush"? "The Death of Superman"?

I know this was based on votes for unabashedly favorite storylines of all time, so there's no reason to scoff. But I do.

When readers hold comics like this junk up as the best ever, well, I think we can do better.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Daughter is Famouser than I Am

You may have seen some of my pull quotes on such collected editions as "Spider-Man Noir" and "Fantastic Four: Some Stuff By Millar and Hitch that Didn't End Well," but I have yet to be credited for my fancy praise on the FRONT of any comic book.

Someone else in my house has beaten me to it (click to see the cover in all of its Callahan-esque glory):

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Splash Page: Are Mainstream Comics Increasingly Lame, or is it Just Us? (Part 1 of 2)

You know the routine by now, Chad talks, I talk, we all talk. This week's topic: What's going on in mainstream comics these days, and why is the overall feeling one of funkiness, but not in a good way?

Chad Nevett:
In our column discussing Warren Ellis and Geoff Johns, Tim made a rather bold statement that I will quote now for those who are too lazy to go back and find it: "...the mass of mainstream superhero comics is floundering in the second half of 2009." Now, Tim is a bold man and is taken to making bold statements that he then backs up. It's something we share and bond over (our collective boldness). At the time, I let it slide since we'd talked a lot and this seemed a perfect topic for another column. Well, that column is this one. Tim, expand upon and defend what we said a while ago, quite possibly just because it sounded big and exciting and cool without thinking it through entirely (as those are the funnest things to say, I must admit).

TC: Okay, that was a few weeks ago, so let me get back into that mindset. Wait for it. There. Got it. Maybe.

I was talking about the general feeling I have that if you created a line graph of the overall quality of superhero comics from 2008 through 2009, you'd see a pretty high standard of quality for a while, and then it would start to dip in maybe February or March of 2009, and continue its downward slide through the summer and fall of this year. I base that not just on the amount of comics I just plain stopped buying this year (and while I was easily reading 25-30 comics a week in 2008, I'm down to 8-10 a week right now), but also the distinct lack of chatter about these superhero comics from the internet intelligentsia.

(The above graph has been peer-reviewed and independently confirmed by at least seventeen comic book scientists.)

Whether it's David Brothers or Douglas Wolk, Geoff Klock or Jog, the guys that had been commenting on mainstream comics have seriously cut back on their own discussions, and even when those critics weren't buying that much stuff to begin with -- Klock, even in 2008, had cut back to only a few titles -- they were part of some larger conversations about superhero comics.

It seems like that spirit of enthusiasm has died down across the board as this year has plodded along, month by month.

Maybe it's the Morrison lull that I'm feeling -- or we're all feeling -- with the giddiness of "Final Crisis" and "Batman" being replaced in recent months with the atrocity of the most recent "Batman and Robin" arc. I'll take Tony Daniel over Philip Tan any day, if I were forced to make such a choice. Or maybe it's the kind of events we're seeing now compared to last year. I don't think "Blackest Night" is aesthetically worse than "Secret Invasion," but Bendis's event comic at least sparked plenty of discussion. With "Blackest Night," the conversation amounts to, "who's going to come back as a zombie next?" And even though you may or may not enjoy the series -- I do, and you don't -- nobody seems to care about the answer to that question. And justifiably so.

Even the good-but-not-great stuff like "Immortal Iron Fist" and "Ghost Rider" has disappeared, or barely comes out, this year. And what has it been replaced with? Not much. Not many new voices in comics this year, really.

And we don't even have "Wednesday Comics" to look forward to anymore, as 2009 draws to a close.

What's your take on all of this?

CN: As I said at the time of your statement, I don't necessarily disagree. I'm buying the same amount of books, if not one or two more, but the increase in the books I'm buying hasn't come from the superhero genre, but from Vertigo, which keeps hooking me with their one dollar first issues, or from mini-series that won't be around in a few months. Then again, this week, I've reviewed four comics for CBR, all superhero books, and three of them were given four stars... Granted, one of them is "The Boys," which is a superhero book technically and may not factor into the above. I wonder if the actual quality has decreased or if it's just that there was a certain energy, a buzz in the air, last year that just isn't here now -- which has nothing to do with quality necessarily. I think people are just tired. It's been a long few years and "Secret Invasion" and "Final Crisis" looked like the end of the big events... the points both companies had been working toward and neither paid off in the way that anyone expected/wanted. Both events left people feeling let down and I think the mood shifted then. There have been a few high points since, like the day "Batman and Robin" #1 came out, but, really, no one cares as much.

But, there are still plenty of books with good quality. I mean, there's "Detective Comics"! JH Williams III! And there's also... yeah, I don't know. "Captain America" has been replaced with the lesser "Reborn" mini-series. The Avengers books are at the same level of quality as always (which is good-but-not-great). "Thor" sort of fizzled out as "Siege" had JMS leave the book with a whimper, not a bang. And... dammit, you're right. I can't really defend things. Why are we reading these books still, then, Tim? Please help me out...

TC: Exactly. Though you may have given a few four-star reviews in recent weeks, and certainly I have as well, the really great superhero books are few and far between. Maybe the average quality has stayed the same, but there's less excitement about a few key books. Brubaker's "Captain America" feels like a generation ago, because this "Reborn" stuff is coming out too slowly, and though it's in keeping with what's been done with the character before, it just feels, I don't know, a bit too stale. Bucky-Cap was interesting on his own, and it seems like Brubaker could have kept him going by himself for a while. Disappointment is a good word, and it fits for the anticipation-and-then-release of the event books last year, too.

"Detective Comics" is probably the only superhero monthly I really and truly love right now, but that lasts for exactly as long as Williams III draws the pages. "Punisher" is second -- and I know you hate that one -- and "Batman and Robin" is third, just because the most recent arc killed me. It was a weak sixth issue, to be sure. I think it will rebound with Cam Stewart on art. Strike that. I know it will rebound with Cam Stewart and become a #1 comic in my heart and mind again. But for now, I can still taste the Tan.

And even when we do give some of the superhero comics 4 stars or more this fall, how much of that is based on the overall weakness of the comics? I mean, would "Dark Avengers Annual" have been a four-star comic if it came out in the same time period as a "Captain Britain," and "Iron Fist," a "Final Crisis"? Those were four-star books a year ago. The scale slides. It has to. Otherwise you'd have to compare every comic to "Swamp Thing" #21 and "Animal Man" #5 and whatever else lands in the "greatness" range, and most of the stuff we praise in a given week would be, from a long-term perspective, completely average. Everything would get 2.5 stars except one or two things a year.

I may be overstating that, but that's the general feeling I get about this season of comics. Not that they're bad. Just that something's missing.

To be continued at GraphiContent!