Friday, 30 September 2011

Favourite Films on Friday: #14, Shaun of The Dead


I can remember when the concept of ‘bromance’ was a revelation to me. It’s warped into something ugly now, a word I can only bring myself to use contained safely between quotation marks. But I was young, and full of foolish innocence, and the word was a lightning rod. The relationship between two (mostly) straight men, it said, could be as beautiful and important as the love affairs most films dedicated themselves to. I wasn’t thinking of Ryan Reynolds and The Hangover and MTV. I was thinking of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.

Shaun of the Dead, for all its high-concept romzomcom premise and delicate construction, is just about two blokes in love. Shaun and Ed. The kind of mates who’ve known each other since primary school, have intertwined lives and shared jokes that have being running since forever.

Of course, there are women, and family, and all the types of love that come along with that too. But Shaun of the Dead presents nothing on a higher pedestal than what I’m sure Plato himself would have termed the bromantic love between the two. In the finest Twilight tradition, however, the path of their love does not run smooth. The painful truth, as various characters continually point out to Shaun, is that he’s just no good for him. Ed’s lazy and abrasive and selfish. But since when has that got in the way of a good romance?

It’s the central conflict of the film. Sure, it looks like a romantic comedy (with zombies!, as the tagline so cheerily informs us) about a guy trying to win back his girl, but really the threat that drives the plot along – from the very first scene, long before the zombies arrive – is deciding whether his relationship with Ed is destructive. It’s all tangled up with Shaun’s need to sort his life out, but the relationship with Ed – and whether Shaun should dump him, and whether anyone will stand between these starcross’d mates – is where that conflict crystallises most clearly into actual narrative.

This relationship between men is one of the key tenets on which all of Pegg, Frost, and Wright’s work is built, along with the oft-cited pop-cultural obsession and the symmetrical structures of callbacks and foreshadowing which we’ll be looking at in a future post. All three are fascinations of mine, and Shaun came along at so perfect a moment that I can’t separate the two, establish which came first.

When I actually watched Shaun of the Dead, on my bedroom floor with my own BFF, did this all stand out? Did I know that I would ever try and mark pre- and post-? Of course not. I was too busy being entertained by a funny, thrilling, gory romp. Everything else came later: when you're watching it for the seventeenth time; when you take selfsame friend to see Hot Fuzz for Valentine's Day; when you're trying to write about it...


Project 52, Week Five (Voodoo/Aquaman/i, Vampire/All-Star Western/Blackhawks/Flash)

Part two of this, the final week of Project 52's reviews of every single #1 in the DC's New 52 initiative, brings our most surprisingly positive review yet, an angry inner dialogue on sexual politics, and what Bret has been teasing on Twitter as a "430 word bitch slap" straight to the face of the Fastest Man Alive.
Voodoo #1
Written by Ron Marz
Art by Sami Basri
Reviewed by Alex

Immediately before reading this comic, I did something potentially rather silly. After last week’s apparently rather pervy selection of comics, I read Laura Hudson’s piece on Catwoman and Starfire’s apparent ‘liberated sexuality’. It was a well considered, satisfying read which filled me with exactly the right type of righteous indignation. Then I did something much, much sillier: I read the comments.

To quote one choice example:

“Sorry PC Police!!! - The Perverts & Fan Boys are taking Back comics!! - just like in Video Games & Japanese Anime - You’re sorry ass Gender blurring B.S. doesn’t sell. NO One wants your Close-Minded “world view” and twisted social gender role restructuring. DC wants to get NEW readers and by New they mean one’s that are “Normal” and don’t hate Sex”

So when I opened Voodoo, and was greeted by the sight of our heroine on all fours, displaying her cleavage to the reader, surrounded by dollar bills, I … it didn’t make me feel good about humanity.

It turns out this ‘Voodoo’ (apparently DC’s first black female to get her own ongoing series) is a stripper with a mysterious past. And so it is that we’re treated to a page of her dancing and posing in her pants, before cutting away to the comic’s actual characters: two government agents - one woman, one man - watching the show. It is at this exact point that my mind splits in two.

Alex #1 [reading page three]: Ah, okay. I see what they’re doing here: the guy’s not being played sympathetically. He’s got big reflective shades on. I’ve done enough Film Studies to know my audience metaphors: the shades hide his eyes, the way a screen or page removes us from the reality of pornography. He’s the Male Gaze, and he is not an attractive prospect.

Alex #2: But what exactly is it that’s being reflected in those shades? A woman stripping, in comics’ classic far-as-we-can-go-without-being-softcore cheesecake fashion. And [page four] here’s a waitress encouraging him, also with a big rack and a top we can conveniently see down in every single panel.

Alex #1 [page six]: Ah. Um… Hang on! Here’s the ballsy female agent. The one that straight up told the pervy audience metaphor he was a jackass and stormed out. And look! Her non-stripper presence has irked some underage gentlemen trying to get eyes-on with their first pair of titties. These men are definitely not sympathetic. They called her ‘lady’…

Alex #2: …and then immediately accuse her of either “looking to party” or being a lesbian.

Alex #1: Exactly! Unsympathetic! They’re That Guy from the comments thread. And [page eight] she just knocked them all out. Damn satisfying.

Alex #2: I’ll concede that. Look I was about to make an argument about the problems with the Female Hardass archetype, but [page nine] we’ve cut to the strip joint’s dressing room. Where all the woman are conveniently in the process pulling their tops off.

Alex #1: It certainly is all very Showgirls… with the standard ‘oh, we’re all doing it to pay for college/our kids’ clichés and bitching about the “balding fatty” clients. Um, is Showgirls feminist or misogynist? I forget.

Alex #2 [page twelve]: Shhh, it’s time for another action scene. By which I of course mean stripping. Which goes on for … [page fifteen] four pages!

Alex #1: (During which, to be fair, the sunglasses fall to the ground with a noise that, if you listen closely enough, sounds distinctly like ‘METAPHOR!’) [page sixteen] But that’s all okay because Hardass Lady Agent’s back and…

Alex #2: …and she’s having sex with the male agent and wants him back so she won’t be alone tonight. [page seventeen] Before jumping back to more stripping!

Alex #1: Yes. But stripping intercut with a one-panel moment of horrible surgical violence and [page eighteen] Voodoo’s transformation into a big scaly monster.

Alex #2: A monster which is still wearing lacy pants and has its breasts covered by a few demure strands of hair.

Alex #1: Thus turning both of those cheesecakey signifiers inside out, surely? Who’s turned on by the breasts of the Creature From The Black Lagoon?

Alex #2: C’mon, Alex, you’ve been on Deviantart.

Alex #1: Ick. But… [page nineteen] the violence! The blood! The return of the shades and the dead open eyes of the pervy audience-representative. This can’t be meant to turn anyone on, can it?

Alex #2: Can it?

And I can’t decide. This is either a clever satire which plays with your expectations by titillating, titillating, and then dropping a big boner-killing landmine in your lap, or a prime example of comics’ dodgy politics, which remembers on the last few pages it’s supposed to be a thrilling sci-fi story. Either way, it’s all told very competently, setting up three characters, killing one off and ending with a compelling thrust to the next issue. And, when it’s not focusing on improbable breasts, Sami Basri’s art is beautiful and complemented well by Jessica Kholinne’s colours. But at the end of the day how much I like this comic boils down to which Alex is right and so…

Alex #1's Rating: A-
Alex #2's Rating: E

Aquaman #1
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Ivan Reis
Reviewed by Tim
Poor Aquaman can’t get no respect. He’s the ruler of 70% of the Earth’s surface, but to most people, he’s a cheap punchline, the guy who talks to fish, who rides a dolphin to emergencies and can’t help out unless the fight is taking place next to a convenient inlet, or possibly a fjord.

Geoff Johns takes on all of these issues and more in this comic. It’s the most “mission statement-y” of all the first issues I’ve read, and as such is a very strong opening comic. Unlike so many of the other DC relaunches, it spends only five pages on setting up the plot mechanics of the first arc (which it does with sparse elegance), and instead spends the time with Aquaman on a semi-typical day, building a voice for the character and addressing the preconceptions we have built up around the King of the Seas.

In a great first scene with the hero, we see Aquaman take out some bank robbers in an armoured van, and get disrespected by both the robbers and the police on the scene, who can’t fathom why he’s at a crime that doesn’t involve fish. Johns and Ivan Reis keep the action tight, with Aquaman notably taciturn. Between Reis’ art and John’s writing, we quickly build up a portrait of a hero who may well have a bit of a chip on his shoulder about being seen as a perennial joke, and who doesn’t have the time or inclination to play up to people’s expectations, or try to win them over.

Shifting the action to a nearby seafood restaurant, we have Aquaman dropping by for a fish and chip lunch, to the dismay of several other diners. Johns gets the necessary exposition out through the device of a blogger who wants an interview (perhaps a sly dig at Internet culture’s tendency to view Aquaman as a relic of the Silver Age) and isn’t afraid to bring up the tough question that everyone is thinking: how’s it feel to be nobody’s favourite super-hero?

Aquaman only really gets articulate at the end of the issue, when he meets up with Mera, his wife, and expresses his desire to leave Atlantis behind to fare for itself, and live a simpler life with her. Here, we find that as uncomfortable as he is among the land dwellers that reject him and snigger at him as he’s saving their lives, he’s just as much of an outsider in Atlantis. In a flashback, his father tells him “someone has to watch the shores”, and that feels like a summation of what this series will grow to be about: a hero of both worlds, belonging to neither, but standing on the shore between the two, protecting them from each other and the darker elements within the both of them. It’s a strong central theme, and gives Aquaman a place in the universe and an idea to hang stories on.

By focusing on the character, the issue avoids the problem of feeling like Part 1, as opposed to Issue 1, and gives itself space to establish Aquaman without feeling rushed or laden down with exposition. The issue shows a self-awareness that is rare in comics, and by having the character acknowledge his own lack of popularity, it feels like Aquaman is dusting off his shoulders, saying “Haters gonna hate” and going ahead to star in the most accomplished first issue I’ve read of the DC relaunch.
Rating: A+

I, Vampire #1
Written by Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art by Andrea Sorrentino
Reviewed by Bret

Or, as it sounds more like a bemused question to me, I Vampire? On a scale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Twilight, the new iVampire definitely falls into the category of Twilight. How do I know this? Yes, I know those types of women and yes, I’ve been dragged to see these films. Team Jacob! Sarcastic Woo!

If you’re a fan of Vampire Romances (of which there seems to be a lot now days) then maybe this comic is for you. Really, I feel the need to judge it from 2 perspectives. Firstly as a comic, and secondly as it’s about vampires. Now this may seem like I’m being overly critical. I mean, I never judged Green Lantern for the ridiculousness of an intergalactic police force that uses special rings, why would I focus on the supernatural elements in Eye Vampire, the Vampire With Too Many Eyes? The reason being is that most of DC’s title characters are very original, where as Ilene Vampire is clearly a punt at the teen girl market and if you’re going to be almost exactly the same as something else that’s already on the market then I need to compare you to give an informed review… like I did with Deathstroke and Punisher.

So! As a comic? It’s okay. The art work was nice but failed in its primary job. Yes it was very nice to look at, but it wasn’t till I reached the last page that I realised the two girls who appear in the book weren’t in fact the same person. I get it, shadowy, non-detailed faces adds to the noir element but if it stops me from understanding the story then it’s too much. Apart from that, the story is about a good vampire killing bad vampires. But not in a cool Blade style because he’s constantly whining about how evil his evil vampire girlfriend is. It’s pretty much what you’d except from a modern vampire tale. Lots of statements about how wrong it is to be immortally young, all powerful and sexy or how difficult love is when you’re all dark and mysterious and broody. Interestingly, it is set in the standard DC universe. So it’d be interesting to see when happens when the JLA find out vampires exist. Wipe them out in one blow I should imagine!

As a story about vampires… well… it left me with one or two questions. The Munsters were popular, as was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That, however, doesn’t mean that every time we see a tale about vampires that every other supernatural has to be represented somewhere as well. Vampire Diaries and True Blood I’m looking at you. In Iron Vampire starring Robert Downey Jr, the vampires seem to also be werewolves. There’s quite a bit of shapechanging going on which I know is a Dracula thing but still. Also, when grouped together, vampires seem to move and behave exactly like zombies. On their own, quick and nimble, put them in a group and they're slow and clumsy. Like Stormtroopers! And when a vamp is in their true form… what the hell is that coming out the back of them? Is that a fish tail? Are they mermaids as well? I just don’t get it.

I dunno. I, Vampire gets a D from me. It wasn’t a bad read, it’s just nothing new and I understand that I’m not the target market but that’s no excuse for just copy and pasting what you know is popular. People making vampire fiction could maybe try and vary up what their pumping out because if this wasn’t just the same old stuff it would have got a better score. I think Gandhi said it best when he said “An I, Vampire for an I, Vampire makes the whole world lame.”

Rating: D

All-Star Western#1
Written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Art by Moritat
Reviewed by Alex

There’s been quite a lot of talk about DC’s New 52 branching out a little, genrewise, from pure superhero stories. Horror and fantasy have crept in a little more, over the boundaries marked ‘Vertigo-land’, along with the war tales and cosmic sci-fi Tim’s been exploring for us.

Well, All-Star Western is, surprisingly enough, a Western. I’m not especially fond of the genre, in any medium. It’s also a detective story, of which I am much fonder. But, like all of those other titles, it’s also recognisable as existing in a universe built for tales about superheroes.

Where those three genres meet is what makes All-Star Western interesting. The engine that drives the plot is a mysterious killer, who has been murdering prostitutes. With the period setting, and Moritat’s scratchy art, it’s a little reminiscient of Alan Moore’s Jack the Ripper tome, From Hell.

But instead of Victorian London, this is Gotham City, circa 1880. The Batman connections are all there - one of the main characters is Amadeus Arkham, founder of the famously ineffective asylum; the Waynes are namedropped; there’s even one character drawn into the foreground with a very Joker-esque appearance, recalling Grant Morrison’s suggestion in The Return of Bruce Wayne (which, on its travels through time, also touched on this particular soil) that these archetypes repeat throughout history.

Joining Arkham is Jonah Hex, he of the hugely unnsuccessful movie with Megan Fox in. He’s basically a cowboy superhero, with six-shooters instead of heat-vision. The genres fold into each other organically, and satisfying to read in the same way as listening to a good mashup, seeing what fits where. I’m flicking back through now, noting Mayor ‘Grandaddy of The Penguin’ Cobblepot and enjoying the way Arkham drinks green absinthe, prepared with the proper equipment, while Hex knocks back ‘Deadman’ brand whisky. If the devil is in the details, then this comic’s fuller of Satan than a ceiling-bound Linda Blair.

However: it doesn’t hang together all that well. A murder mystery is the most compelling force in all of narrative, if you ask me, and yet here it struggles to grip. The story elements are bit scattershot, the narration occasionally a little clumsy, Moritat’s art never quite consistent. The final page reveal is quite lovely, told through the most stunning series of panels the comic has to offer. But it’s not quite enough to elevate the comic beyond a pleasing novelty, beyond being merely ‘quite good’.

Rating: C

Blackhawks #1
Written by Mike Costa
Art by Ken Lashley
Reviewed by Tim

I’ve still got a couple of reviews to finish, plus whatever post-match analysis Alex is cooking up for us, but with Blackhawks, it feels like I’ve come full circle, back to Men Of War, the first issue I reviewed solo for Project 52. While Men Of War was grounded in realistic warfare, but acknowledged that it existed within a universe where superheroes existed, Blackhawks never really brings up any links to the DC Universe, but plays out like a Jerry Bruckheimer film. I’ve never read any of the GI Joe comics (although I’ve heard great things about Larry Hama’s run) but I imagine that this is what they’re like. The over-the-top action (the issue more-or-less opens with a character wrestling with a jet pilot in an open cockpit while hanging onto another man strapped into a bomb vest) is complimented by an array of near-future tech with a particular focus on nanotechnology. The characters exist largely as nicknames, and all tend towards a standard gruff military type personality, all on various positions along the Boy Scout-Renegade spectrum. In some ways it feels a lot like a sub-par Warren Ellis comic (something in the Global Frequency mode), which makes sense considering he recently wrote a new GI Joe miniseries.

The art by Graham Nolan and Ken Lashley is competent but feels a little loose for this sort of comic, which would benefit from a more polished, dare I say plastic feeling, aesthetic. The sketchy lines imply to me a grittier sort of tale than you find here – we’re definitely in Saturday morning cartoon territory as far as plotting and character development goes. As far as the plot goes, there’s little to comment on. At least one long-running plot thread is established, plus one of the main characters seems to be developing some sort of superpowers (possibly the proportional strength of a Kazakh fighter pilot, based on the comic) which could take the comic into interesting new places, but given the lack of inspiration on display in this issue, I doubt will be treated in a particularly unique or affecting way.

The disconnect from the larger DC universe feels like the biggest missed opportunity in this issue. The idea of a black-ops UN team in a world where superheroes operate has some legs to it, but by focusing on a generic terrorist threat, the unit feels a little bit too Team America: World Police, and the idea of the super-tech, kung fu squad descending from their mountaintop base to blow the crap out of the third world carries some unfortunate connotations. Without the greater threat of superhumans (particularly in the new DC universe, where they are a much more recent phenomena and therefore the world would still be reacting to them as a new danger) there is nothing to connect this book to the relaunch. It feels entirely generic and by the numbers, and as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, that just isn’t enough in the kind of mass relaunch exercise DC is trying.

Rating: C-


The Flash #1
Written by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccalletto
Art by Francis Manapul
Reviewed by Bret

Okay. First of all, before I even get started on anything else... What the hell? The Flash killed that guy. Like stone cold just to save his own skin. I don’t care that later on in the plot it turns out the guy was already dead beforehand because that’s just convenient and the Flash didn‘t know that. Anyway, if that guy wasn’t already dead he would have been after what the Flash did. And you can’t say “Oh, well the Flash knew the guy was already dead, that’s why he did what he did to save himself” because No. Read page 11. The Flash’s first words when he sees the corpse of the guy he iced are “Killed on impact?”. It’s a damn question. HE DIDN’T KNOW SQUAT! Flash is just lucky that the bloke was already dead.

Which leads me to another thing. What the hell? The police are like “Somebody please tell me I don’t have a homicide with Flash’s finger-prints on it!” and then later “No leaks on this one… anyone talks and they’re done in my department”. So what are we saying here? That if any of the police go to the media and tell them that the Flash might have killed a guy they’ll lose their job? That’s perverting the course of justice! Exactly who are they trying to serve and protect here?

Okay, rant over. Even without from the cold blooded murder, the book wasn’t that great. I loved the style of it, especially the way Flash first changes into his costume and the little two-page intro we get, but apart from that the story is lacking. It felt to me like it was Part 1 of maybe 8, and quite honestly nothing happened that would make me want to go back and buy more. I felt little to no emotional connection with any of characters and even though it’s well established in the book how Flash feels about these people, that’s not enough to make me care as well. Mostly because for me to care about who the Flash cares about… I need to care about the Flash. And that dude's a killer in my eyes now so he can go f*** himself. Especially as the only reason that guy was falling to his death in the first place was because of the Flash put him in that situation. GOD DAMN!

You know what Flash, if you can’t do the job without putting peoples lives in danger AND THEN SACRIFICING THEM TO SAVE YOURSELF MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T DO THE JOB!!!

Oh, and the art was passable.

Rating: F

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Thursday, 29 September 2011

Project 52, Week Five: Comparing Notes on... Green Lantern New Guardians

It's the final week of DC's New 52 wave of #1 issues, and the final week of Project 52. So in celebration/memorium, let's play with the format a bit. Starting with Tim and Bret having the kind of verbal intercourse I can only have in my head.
Green Lantern: New Guardians #1 – A Discussion, between Mssrs Timothy Maytom and Brettania Canny

(Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Tyler Kirkham)

Tim: What did you feel about this one?

Bret: I…liked it. As I’ve said, I’m still new to the DC universe, but Green Lantern’s always been someone whose interested me. I like the idea of the power, but at the same time, I didn’t realise you could have more than one at the same time until I started reading these. Having now read Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps and been introduced to three of the four Lanterns, now there’s this new guy. And from the single issues that I’ve read, this guy’s actually my favourite.

T: Kyle Rayner, from when I’ve read pre-reboot stuff, was always my favourite. The way that he replaced Hal Jordan, and then Hal came back, always reminded me of a story from the '60s, when Stan Lee was writing Spider-Man. No matter what they did when writing Gwen Stacy, they couldn’t make her as interesting as Mary Jane, even though Gwen was meant to be Spidey’s true love. So in the end, they just gave up, and made Mary Jane the love of his life, and it feels like the opposite of that with Green Lanterns. Kyle Rayner is always the more interesting one, and yet they make Hal Jordan the main hero.

B: He was there first, and it goes with DC’s love of their history and origin stories, which ties into the whole reboot thing. The beginnings are seen as more important than the journey the characters have been through.

But having read New Guardians, I’m confused. In Justice League, we see Hal Jordan five years ago as an established hero. In Green Lantern Corps, we see John Stewart and Guy Gardner, look at me with the knowledge, head off to the Green Lantern planet and it’s all hunky dory. But in this issue, we go there, and everyone’s dead, and we have to assume it’s at the same time.

T: There’s a bit later in the book that says “Present Day” but does that mean anything before it was in the past, or what?

B: Yeah, page one, and everyone on Green Lantern Planet is dead, and the blue guy is saying “I’ll use the remains of my power to make this last ring” and unless you’ve killed off three Green Lanterns off-panel, it’s not really the last ring. And does Kyle Rayner live under a rock? Because when he gets his powers, the blue guy says, “Welcome to the Green Lantern Corps” and Kyle says, “Welcome to the what?” like he’s never heard of them.

T: We establish in the issue that people know who they are; you have people saying, “I like the one with the brown hair” and stuff.

B: They do seem to be tying it into other titles, like this Red Lantern with the bat wings appears in Red Lanterns, but she seemed like she was being set up as a major character there, and if she’s now being ported over to here, it makes me wonder if they’ve mucked [-keepin' it clean ed] up their timeline already.

T: Having not read any of the other Green Lantern titles, I quite liked this issue. I thought it did a good job of establishing Kyle Rayner; it introduced some of these other Lanterns, as this is the multi-Lantern title. It didn’t really explain why they were being brought together, but there’s the sense of a mystery beneath it all, what with the whole “everyone on GL Planet is dead”.

B: This scratches that itch I have for collection, what with the “one of every colour” concept, and if I were going to read a Green Lantern title, it would probably be this one.

T: Is that on the merits of this issue, or more to do with the concept behind it?

B: Well, there are three factors. One: I liked Kyle Rayner. Two: I like the “there’s a different ring for each emotion” idea, and if I was going to write something in this universe, that’s the kind of book I’d write, that threw these characters together. And Three: I always appreciate a book that’s willing to say “I have a story to tell, rest of the universe be damned”, much like X-Factor does for Marvel, and I feel like this could have a similar attitude.

T: It’s very much a set-up issue; not a lot happens. There’s a really nice splash of him saving a crane from falling down, which shows off why I like Kyle Rayner, as he really puts the whole “your ring can do anything” to use. In Justice League, we had Hal Jordan making jets, ‘cos he’s a pilot, and here you have giant '40s workmen saving stuff, which I find cool. I’m not so sure it’s going to be one of these books where the writer has a story to tell and is just using the toys from the universe, but I get that it could be that. We have all these different characters forced together…

B: And it’s not just that they’re different, they’re representing a lot of directly opposing concepts, which I think is cool. As a story on it’s own, it’s okay. The art is fine.

T: Yeah, there were a couple of nice pages like that splash, but it’s mostly passable without being special.

B: I’ve sort of accepted that most of DC’s first issues aren’t telling a complete story, which is a shame, because you could have done that here with some tweaking, but I also can’t think of many other actual origin stories, with a character gaining their powers in the reboot. Most of them assume you know that character, and throw you right in.

T: It does it quickly, without a lot of fuss. You don’t feel like anything’s been skimmed over, but you also don’t feel like it’s being dwelled on too long. It’s a case of, “you have a magic ring, it does whatever you think, and now go!”

B: And you avoid that thing of having the character announce how their powers work, because you have someone explaining it to them.

T: “With my magic ring, I can create whatever I imagine!”

B: Final verdict?

T: There were a lot of introductions, often for concepts, rather than characters, but I like the central idea, and Kyle Rayner is an interesting, appealing hero, so I think it’s definitely got potential.

B: Considering the lack of content, because it is mostly introductions, and setting up who you need to know, which leaves the story a bit empty, I can’t give it an A. It’s a bit “here’s everyone you’ll need to know, and then, the end”. But I did really like what I read.

Bret’s Rating: B+
Tim’s Rating: B
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Friday, 23 September 2011

Favourite Films on Friday: #15, Monsters Inc

As someone who has long taken issue with the way certain childrens' books (hint: rhymes with Larry Frotter) are not just acceptable but celebrated reading material for grownups, my love of kids' films is maybe worth a little examination. They have to dumb down to the same common-denominator level, surely, to be understood by even the littlest of the littl'uns?

And, if you'd put this question to me in person, I'd likely spend a lot of time humming and aahing, looking at my shuffling feet, before making a hurried mumble of apology (something about explosive diarrhea?) and fleeing from the room. But here we are on the internet, where I am master, and have infinite time to consider my answer.

Which is (now) this: as a passive medium, cinema doesn't have a prerequisite 'you must be this tall to enjoy' barrier to enjoyment. In a children's book, even one aimed at an audience older than Monsters Inc, the level of vocabulary and technique available to the author is limited by the reader's understanding. The same logic applies to game for children, which have to be reasonably simple to interact with.

Pixar are able to bring all sorts to complex cinematic technique to bear. Just look at the comedy outtakes that run over the credits: try something like that in a book, and the extra layer of fictional reality introduced could be alienating. But in Monsters Inc, that just slips over you without being an issue, even when it slips back into the original reality with Mike & Sully's 'Put That Thing Back Or So Help Me' musical.

Or... well, it could be that I just don't really dig on Harry Potter (I've tactfully avoided making any reference to Pullman's Dark Materials stuff or my lack of interest in the HP films, both of which would totally sink my argument) whereas Monsters Inc is an undeniably brilliant film, equally capable of making me laugh, cry, go awhhhh, marvel at its prettiness, get caught in the action, cry again, and totally not care about any kinds of adult/child divides. But, shhh. That would totally invalidate this post, wouldn't it?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Project 52: Week Four

This is the disembodied voice of Alex, being broadcast atcha from the Lagoa region of Portugal. Yup, I'm on holiday. Which means lots of food, lots of drink, but no comics or blogging for me. So, it's my pleasure to introduce renowned playwright, occasional blogger and all round good guy Mr Michael "Meckett" Eckett. With a bit of luck, he won't show me up too badly. So kick back and enjoy the reviews.
Batman #1
Written by Scott Snyder
Art by Greg Capullo
Reviewed by Michael

I love a good writing device. Particularly in a single issue comic it allows an easy structure to present itself, juxtapose images and explore different world views without it feeling forced. Scott Snyder's decision to base the narrative of Batman around completing the sentence of "Gotham is..." using three words or less introduces us to the world inhabited by Batman and also brings Gotham to the forefront as a character in its own right.

Gotham is a city so tainted that it corrupts and destroys everything and everyone within it; even one of Gotham's better police officers can be worn down by the vices the city perpetuates. So in a city this bad, the good men, like Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon are extraordinary.

Batman #1 plays with all the toys that make Batman great; detective work, big ideas in the form of Wayne tech and badass fighting. It opens with Batman against a breakout at Arkham; villains old and new are deftly handled by the caped crusader in a frenetic yet clear fight scene. If you recognise all the villains, you understand the stakes whilst new readers get a fun introduction.

Capullo's Batman in the opening is all gritted teeth and cloaked in shadow framed by a jagged Gotham, covered in grafitti and detailed decay before we see his Batcave, something expansive and reassuring. The iconic trophies are all there alongside Batmobiles of the ages alongside a brooding Bruce Wayne. Out of the mask Bruce heads to a party with Dick, Damien and Drake; and we see the other side of Capullo's Gotham, a bright warm area for the rich, lacking in detail, ignoring the harshness outside. Instead we focus on the facial expressions and postures of Gotham's elite, Damien's sneers, easy going Dick Grayson's slouches and playboy Bruce Wayne charming a room. Capullo's cartoony style makes these moments even more charming.

I really like Snyder pushing Bruce Wayne as a force of positivity as a philanthropist and not only a crimefighter; Bruce has realised he needs to fix Gotham itself and that he can't rely on Batman, Gordon and his Robins who have thus far survived being tarnished by Gotham. But the cliffhanger suggests at least one of them might not have escaped the city's clutches.

Batman #1 is a really fun, well crafted comic and as an introduction it's fantastic. If the run lives up to the promise shown here we could be in for a real treat because it really is everything I want out of a Batman comic.

Rating: A

Birds of Prey #1
Written by Duane Swierczynski
Art by Jesus Saiz
Reviewed by Tim

Fighting! Spying! Car chases! Explosions! Birds Of Prey has it all, and doesn’t really put a foot wrong. It’s a great example of a first issue done really well. Like Justice League, we’re only introduced to a portion of the cast in this issue, but unlike Justice League, there’s a definite sense of intentional team-building going on, with Black Canary out to put together a team, trying to recruit Batgirl (in a nice nod to the old Birds Of Prey series) and dealing with a snooping reporter and some stealth-suited assassins.

Swierczynski gives Black Canary, Starling and Charlie Keen, the reporter, individual voices and enough characterisation to make them pop off the page, and the plot, while simple, has enough promise. As a new season of American television starts up and some promising pilot episodes start to appear, it’s reminded me of what I look for in a first issue – the plot doesn’t matter as much as the character dynamics do, and Birds Of Prey makes enough of an impression to make me feel confident in where it’s headed. The art by Jesus Saiz is great, atmospheric and polished, with really smooth action sequences full of movement. The only thing I’m not so keen on is the cover, which makes the character designs look a little clumsy, whereas in the book they feel appropriate and stylish. It’s also gratifying, after yesterday’s comics, to see a comic book full of women drawn with realistic bodies who aren’t sexualised so much I feel like I’ve opened an issue of Nuts.

Birds Of Prey doesn't do anything extraordinary – it doesn’t rewrite the rulebook or mess around with format, aside from some well deployed flashbacks, but it gives us a super-polished first issue that makes none of the mistakes that have plagued a few of DC’s other titles. Instead, it creates a promising foundation for a superhero action-thriller that doesn’t feel rushed or cluttered with exposition. It has the kind of simplicity of purpose and drive that all of DC’s first issues should have had.

Rating: A

Blue Beetle #1
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Ig Guara
Reviewed by Bret

After having just read the end of Blue Beetle #1 I can sum it up in one word, one noise and then a lengthy complainy sentence. So here goes… the word is “disappointment”, the noise is “AAARRRRGHGGHG” and the complainy sentence begins “WHAT THE HELL?! YOU CAN’T LEAVE IT LIKE THAT!!! I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!!! YOU BUILD UP THAT SORT OF AN INTRO AND YOU DON’T EVEN LET ME SEE THOSE DICKS GET PUNCHED IN THE FACE?!!?!!”

Blue Beetle was very good and ticks a lot of boxes for me, and as always, SPOILERS AHEAD. The back story is explained in a short prologue so you don’t feel like you’ve skipped a beat when you start reading. The characters are introduced naturally and I like the fact that we’re getting a Puerto Rican hero who doesn’t come off as stereotype. The art is very nice, and compliments the story greatly. There are a couple of characters who aren’t named or explained and I’ve criticised that in other books from the New 52 but here the art work is so refreshingly clear that you can tell who’s who and what’s going on without a running commentary from the cast. Also, (and this may not be new to the Blue Beetle at all but it’s new to me) I LOVED the fact the source of the Blue Beetle’s power is an intergalactic scarab that’s only about as big as your palm and looked upon by the Green Lanterns as vermin.

This is a clear origin story, and to be fair, more like the sort of thing I expected from DC’s relaunch. I understand that with titles like Green Lantern and the JLA you don’t need to introduce characters as much because people will already know who they are… but at the same time if you’re taking everything back to the beginning… aren’t origin stories what you would expect? Anyway, the point is that Blue Beetle was definitely an origin and as such I (as a new reader to DC) feel like I am more inclined to now go back and buy issue 2. Having been there from what feels like the start, I feel more involved in the character.

Overall, it's an engaging story which left me in enough suspense that I want to go back and buy more just to find out what happens, with really nice character and art work. Lets hope enough people read it for DC to take note of what’s been done right here.

Rating: A

Captain Atom #1
Written by J.T. Krul
Art by Freddie Williams II
Reviewed by Michael
Captain Atom received nuclear based powers in an accident of some description which isn't elaborated on because it's not necessary, he's also probably a Captain. He can shoot energy beams, absorb energy, is super strong and can fly and he uses these abilities for old fashioned super heroics, fighting dangerous people piloting robotic atrocities and saving people from natural disasters all because he's a good man. Dedicated to helping Captain Atom in a different way are the scientists at Continuum exploring his powers, including the workaholic, jovial Ranita Carter and the to-the-point, unsocial Dr. Megala.

In the opening action scene Captain Atom realises he can manipulate molecules other than his own, transforming metal into dust; but at the same time his hand begins to disintegrate as he loses control of his body. It's a fun little metaphor for him losing his humanity as his powers become more god-like. Of course Captain Atom doesn't see it as fun, as using his powers could kill him, so when he flies off to absorb the energy of a nuclear reactor meltdown and stop a volcanic eruption in New York you feel a genuine threat to his existence.

It's the small touches in this comic that I particularly enjoy; we never learn Captain Atom's real name thus distancing and dehumanising him, and he is never inked, but coloured straight onto pencils which gives a nice effect and makes the bright blue Captain Atom stand out from the rest of the art.

Conversely the things that detract from the comic are also small things. Most new scenes also have a clock counting up from a point in time (possibly the accident that gave Atom his powers) but towards the end of the book the clock goes back in time rather than forward. And whilst the dialogue and narration flits between peppy and introspective sometimes J.T. Krull comes out with a rather odd phrase. Freddie Williams II inks over his pencils but they are sometimes a bit heavy for my liking and more often than not ordinary people can end up looking quite creepy.

Whilst issue one balances out to be quite average there are a lot of nice things to be found in Captain Atom and if a few of the kinks are worked out it could be a very decent book in the future.

Rating: C+


Catwoman #1
Written by Judd Winick
Art by Guillem March
Reviewed by Tim

Man, I finished Red Hood and the Outlaws feeling like I needed a wash from all the cheesecakey art on display, and then I read Catwoman, and realised it could have been so much worse. I was hoping that the awful, awful cover wasn’t an indicator of the content of the comic, with it’s soft porn inspired pose and Catwoman spilling diamonds suggestively over her breasts, but no, you open up to the first page, and you’re greeted with four panels of Catwoman’s bra, with her face cut off in each panel, because who really cares about that?

Part of the controversy surrounding the DC relaunch was centred on the shift away from female creators, in an industry where women are already severely under-represented, and accusations of sexism can fairly be levelled at the representation of many female characters. You’d think that DC would make an effort to counteract this by portraying its second biggest female character a strong, positive light. Instead, we have a title where, out of the 20 pages, over a third feature the main character in her bra, where most of the action panels would rather focus on Catwoman’s ass than what’s going on, where the only other female characters are a former show girl and prostitutes, and where, instead of the typical cliff-hanger on a moment of tension or a dramatic reveal, we are left with Catwoman and Batman having extremely awkward looking sex, because her most important function is as a hero’s girlfriend, right?

It’s not all bad news, I’ll admit. It passes the Bechdel Test, and when Guillem March’s art isn’t pushing in on Catwoman’s butt, its simple, good-looking, with clear storytelling and some creative flair when it comes to composition and panel structure. The plot is engaging enough, with plenty of hooks for future stories, and we’re given enough of Catwoman’s inner thoughts for her to have a voice and a personality. But like Red Hood
I keep coming back to the sexism. This kind of regressive misogyny doesn’t belong in comics any more, and you would think that DC’s attempts to reach new readers might include making their titles friendlier towards women, especially the ones where female characters are front and centre.

I keep coming back to a scene in the middle of the book, where Catwoman, in disguise, seduces and then attacks (possibly killing) a mobster who appears to have killed her mother (the flashback is a little unclear). She follows him into the toilets, where he’s alone, pops open her shirt and moves in seductively before beating him up. She’s a stealthy character and he’s alone and not expecting an attack – there’s absolutely no reason for her to seduce this character that she detests, beyond the reader’s titillation. It rings so false and exploitative, and I can’t begin to understand what Judd Winick was thinking when he wrote the scene, beyond “sexy sexy danger”. Catwoman deserves better than that.

Rating: D-


DC Universe Presents: Deadman #1
Written by Paul Jenkins
Art by Bernard Chang
Reviewed by Michael
There's a man named Boston Brand who was a trapeze artist. A trapeze artist called Boston Brand who went by the name Deadman. Boston Brand who went by the name Deadman was not a very nice Deadman when he was alive and then Deadman died. If you want to read a comic about a dead man called Boston Brand but who was known as Deadman, there is a comic book called Deadman about Boston Brand. When Deadman dies he is not dead. "Not dead?" you ask, no not dead. But if he is not dead what is he? He is in-between. "In-between? In-between what?" might be the question you reciprocate with in relation to my revelation about Boston Brand. "In between a life poorly lived and the agony of death is where Deadman currently lies", is how I would answer you. If the current stilted and annoying exposition is bothering you, I would suggest not picking up Deadman #1 the comic about Bost---you get the idea.

The most frustrating thing is that there are quite a few positives that are completely overshadowed by the negatives. After having the same things repeated to us over a montage of static images lacking any flow or storytelling, we then get a bit more into the new Deadman status quo. Deadman's reasoning and drive for possessing individuals and solving their problems is no longer to figure out who murdered him but to atone for his life as a bit of a dick. It adds elements of reincarnation and karma to the mix, definitely allowing for more emotive storytelling but it's all squandered because we don't see Deadman living any of these lives; we're just told that he has. The comic actually lets us know that we could be reading a story about a Chinese-American Spy, a covert operative or a genius scientist but instead get to listen to how each of their lives are rubbish and that Deadman feels he's failed them. It's not at all engaging and so dour that the big emotional cliffhanger doesn't land.

The art from Bernard Chang is a bit of a mixed bag too; his gaunt figures and clean pencils lend themselves well to the tone of the book with Deadman himself looking particularly good. However his figures are sometimes too oddly contorted with weird facial expressions and in moments where a visually interesting image could lift an information dump, there are instead just a lot of people standing around with a glowing red outline.

I've been keeping up with Tim's reviews for the other weeks of the new 52 and he's had a couple of complaints of books "telling" and not "showing" and this seems to be another disappointing example of that trend. Deadman introduces some interesting concepts but doesn't feel the need to explore them beyond concepts or indeed make any other part of the book interesting. It feels like a waste of potential of something that could have been one of the more fun titles of the DC relaunch.

Rating, the score I'm suggesting this book deserves, a final grade for the book: D+


Green Lantern Corps #1
Written by Peter J. Tomasi
Art by Fernando Pasarin
Reviewed by Bret

Guy Gardner and John Stewart. 2 of Earth’s Green Lanterns (or as they’re constantly called in this book “GL’s”) are feeling like they don’t have a place on their home planet any more and set out to investigate a rash of GL deaths that have occurred in Space Sector 3599. Sounds like it might be a bit much to a reader who’s unfamiliar with the DC Universe? Well actually no. The first issue of Green Lantern Corps makes the smart move and spends a couple of pages fully introducing both its main heroes and its villain. Not only that BUT it even manages to avoid introducing characters by having them just stand there and recite their life history. No no, here we’re treated to little side stories that sum up who it is that’s being introduced while still being entertaining.

I’ve never read any of Guy Gardner’s stuff and have always judged him by the fact that he insists on wearing his stupid collar up on his stupid waistcoat like some 80’s throw back. IT DIDN’T LOOK GOOD THEN GARDNER AND IT LOOKS EVEN WORSE NOW! However, I found myself liking Guy. I also found the so far nameless villain to be genuinely threatening. The art work doesn’t shy away from demonstrating violent murder in what is clearly going to a story in need of adult supervision. After killing some people in a way that reminded me of the laser beam scene in the Resident Evil movie (you know the one) I think the only way to make it any clearer exactly how bad that bad guy is, is to have him kick a puppy… maybe with laser beams…

Seriously though, this is clearly a very well thought out, character driven story that puts weight into making a highly sci-fi tale about aliens and outer space feel realistic and believable. It would have been an even better rating, but I just can’t forgive that waistcoat.

Rating: A-


Legion of Super-Heroes #1
Written by Paul Levitz
Art by Francis Portela
Reviewed by Tim

What can you say about superhero names? They’re a tricky art – a lot of the good ones are gone, you need to strike an appropriate balance of iconic and character-driven, and when you sit down and actually think about it, even some of the established names are pretty ridiculous. Shadowcat? Green Lantern? Wonder Woman? We accept these names because we’ve grown up with them and because there’s a suspension of belief that you have to buy into. But I have to admit, the names in Legion kept pulling me out of the story. As awesome as a lot of the Silver Age was, names were often not the strong suit – there’s a reason “Speedy” became “Arsenal”. The Legion, which as far as I can tell began as a kind of galaxy spanning Teen Titans, and the names show this – they’re full of adolescent identifiers, which is fine if you’re playing up to that tone or dealing with young heroes, but when you have a character called Colossal Boy lamenting the loss of his wife, it breaks the flow. It doesn’t help that most of the characters are drawn as teens or young adults – apart from Star Boy WHO HAS A FULL GROWN BEARD.

Anyway, on with the actual review. Legion suffers from a lot of the same issues as Legion Lost. There’s little sense of a relaunch or continuity reboot here – past problems are mentioned with no guidance for new readers, the Flashpoint storyline is referenced, and characters come ready equipped with tons of baggage and issues with each other. The huge, sprawling cast doesn’t help – we deal with 16 named characters in the issue, plus enemies, and it’s a little bit of an information overload. It improves on Legion Lost’s exposition dump by using character detail box-outs that give us names, codenames and powers without forcing it in as un-natural sounding dialogue, and the characters are all fairly distinct looking.

The main thrust of the plot, with a group of Legionnaires investigating a gone-quiet base on a border planet, is simple enough for a first issue that’s also packed with subplot and flits around four different locations, and the artwork by Francis Portela is crisp and clean, with a good handle on the action and great detail work, especially in the lush alien backgrounds. The issue falls down, at least in terms of being a relaunch, by trying to cram in too much information. The signal to noise ratio is all off – Paul Levitz does a good job cramming in characterization where he can, but the issue could do with a lot more room to breathe.
Rating: C


Nightwing #1
Written by Kyle Higgins
Art by Eddy Barrows
Reviewed by Bret

And here it is. Seems I’ve been waiting for you Mr Grayson, without ever even knowing who you are. You see at some point when writing reviews you’ll be asked to give your opinion on something, and even though it’s good, doesn’t make any of the mistakes you normally look for and you know full well that all the fans will hold it high and say “This. This is what comics should be about” you know in your heart of hearts that you just didn’t like it. And pointing that out will ALWAYS upset someone.

Again I feel the need to state that Nightwing wasn’t a bad comic. It was very stylised and well drawn. The plot took it's time to explain who Nightwing was and what he’s done in his life to get to where he is now. There were a couple of very nice fight scenes and it even showed us Nightwing's home life as Dick Grayson to give us something to associate with as normal people. It all sounds great right? Well maybe.

I get the feeling that fans of Nightwing, Batman and DC in general will get a real kick out of it. The tone definitely nailed Gotham’s nitty-gritty hotbed of crime and sin, but it's nothing that I haven’t seen before. Dick Grayson was likeable but, you know, nothing special. And the story? It was okay.

This is just going to be one of those things. If you disagree with my opinion you’re probably right. Read what I’ve written? What am I complaining about? Nothing really. It’s just… I didn’t care about the book. Any of it. Nothing grabbed my attention and everything felt like stories I’ve read a hundred times before. Well told yes, but still nothing that would want to make me go back and buy again.

Overall most people will love Nightwing, but there will be a small number of people out there who, like me, just don't care enough to rate it higher. And it should feel grateful because I really wanted to give it a D.
Rating: C


Red Hood & The Outlaws #1
Written by Scott Lobdell
Art by Kenneth Rocafort
Reviewed by Tim

As I mentioned in my introduction way back in Week One of this venture, I grew up with the British reprints of '90s X-Men titles. In the wake of the X-Men cartoon’s debut in the UK, a biweekly title was launched featuring the (then new-ish) X-Men title plus back-up adaptations of the cartoon stories. Over the years, this changed format and expanded to Uncanny X-Men and other titles, but the foundations of my comics-reading life were laid by Jim Lee and Scott Lobdell, and story arcs like “Fatal Attractions” and “X-cutioner’s Song”. Red Hood and the Outlaws feels like a flashback to those times, not simply because Lobdell is once again in the writer’s chair.

The story, which sees Jason Todd and Starfire rescuing Arsenal from a Middle Eastern prison, and then planning their next move on a tropical island, could be an old X-Men arc compressed into one issue, with some reasonably well-executed action sequences and cryptic warnings about future broken up by the main characters lounging about in swimsuits, dealing with their personal lives. Kenneth Rocafort’s art is reminiscent of Jim Lee’s, if a little looser, but with a similar tendency towards cheesecake when it comes to female characters.

Admittedly, Starfire has always been a character built for the 13 year-old boy market, but the way she is portrayed emerging from the water like a Bond girl and offering no strings attached sex to Arsenal is more than a little skeevy, and there isn’t a single panel featuring her that doesn’t reek of sexualisation and male gaze. It’s off-putting in an otherwise acceptable first issue. There are a couple of witty one-liners in here (and a couple of stinkers) and I enjoy the way that Arsenal’s black eyes form a domino mask not unlike his costume (although I’m not sure if that’s intentional).

As for plot set up, the cryptic warnings from Essence (not a character I’m familiar with) fall a little flat without any context for them, but it feels like there’s some mythology at work behind the scenes here, and plans are being made for future plot developments. The characterisation falls a little short, with no real motivations for any of the characters presented, and little to distinguish them from each other beyond Starfire’s apparent emotional detachment/amnesia.

The further we get into this project, the more I am seeing three distinct strands in these first issues: the good, the bad and the depressingly mediocre. I’ve mentioned before the opportunity for reinvention and boundary pushing that this relaunch offers, and the more I read issues like this, that take no risks and offer nothing new, the more pointless the whole exercise seems.

C’mon, DC, you can do better than this!

Rating: C-


Supergirl #1
Written by Michael Green & Mike Johnson
Art by Mahmud Asrar
Reviewed by Bret

Supergirl to me has always been more interesting as a character than Superman. Firstly because I’m a little shallow and she’s a gorgeous blond, but mostly because she wasn’t raised on Earth and so doesn’t always see things from a human perspective… and I like that. She’s not from around here and hasn’t been raised to be as caring towards her fellow man as good ol’ Clarkey boy was. That’s a good foundation to have DC tell some interesting stories which I can happily say they’ve nailed with their first issue of Supergirl’s new title.

To be honest, not a lot actually happens in the book. SPOILERS HERE! She crash lands on Earth like a meteorite, gets spotted by some military types who dispatch some men in battle-mechs to capture her. Then they fight. And that’s it. But, during what would seem like a very simple and possibly boring plot we really see the essence of what Supergirl is all about. She is a lost teenage girl who has no idea where she is, why she’s there or what’s going on. She’s panicked and frightened and under attack by strange robot looking things who don’t speak her language and you can’t help but feel sorry for her. Imagine how you would feel if you woke up in a strange place and laser beams suddenly started blasting uncontrollably out of your eyes. Freaked out, I would wager.

The art work does a stunning job of underlining the confusion. There’s a single panel where she stops fighting for a second to look in horror at the blood on her hands which just captures the moment perfectly. My only criticism with the art was her costume. I don’t know if she’s either wearing skin coloured trousers or a Superthong but either way, I found the amount of crotch and bum shown to be a little distracting… especially as she’s only a young girl.

Overall, this isn’t going to be to everyone’s liking as not much actually happens. However, the content that is there avoids all of my normal complaints whilst managing to be heartfelt. But if you’re going to live in my house then you’re going to follow my rules and I will not have you leave the house looking like that young lady.

Rating: B+


Wonder Woman #1
Written by Brian Azzarello
Art by Cliff Chiang
Reviewed by Michael

Before yesterday I don't think I've read a Wonder Woman comic. I've obviously been exposed to Diana through various crossovers, the Justice League cartoon and my girlfriends pyjamas. I think I have a pretty decent idea of the concepts, the origin and some of the stuff fans are sensitive about but Wonder Woman, like a lot of the DC titles with long histories, always felt like it might be hard to get into. I know Wonder Woman exists in the same way that I know the pope exists but have never felt the need to read a comic book about him.

Armed with only a vague idea of the character and some background reading on the relaunch, which consisted of people arguing about what will cover Wonder Woman's lower half and writer Brian Azzarello saying this will be more of a horror book, I really wasn't sure what to expect. What Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang present to us is a book with the Greek Gods at the centre. It is a world where the debauchery and murderous nature of the Gods is still around in the modern day and Wonder Woman is placed in the middle of it all, defending humanity from the horrors they face from the Gods' meddlings. It's an interesting take on the character and bringing the mythological side of the character to the forefront is something I personally enjoyed.

The book opens with one such God (I think it's Apollo as there's a 'sun' pun and he changes appearance upon sun rise but it's a different depiction of Apollo than I've seen before and it is never made explicit) who leads three mortal women to a penthouse before turning them into his fates and sacrificing them by the end of the book. From there we segue to another God in a hooded peacock cloak (thus suggesting it's Hera) who promptly hacks off two horses heads in order to birth centaurs. It's an entirely silent scene carried by Chiang's artwork who balances the feminine grace of Hera with the grotesque creature creation. These centaurs are sent to kill a young lady named Zola all because she's been impregnated by Zeus. With Hermes (actually named) failing to protect her, he sends her via magic key to a slumbering Wonder Woman. Because Zola is both frightened and headstrong she uses the key to transport both her and Wonder Woman to Hermes and the heavily armed centaurs. Wonder Woman is a little more suited to fighting and she takes down the centaurs whilst the captions relay Apollo's conversation with his Fates and this leads to the final revelations of the issue in both strands of the plot.

Coupled with earthy, vibrant colours from Mathew Wilson, Cliff Chiang's art is a wonderful thing to behold; his storytelling is fluid and exciting and his facial expressions tell us everything we need to know. Even though there's no dialogue in the fight scene, we see all the emotions and reactions Diana and Zola go through whilst throwing in some cool fight moves. Coupled with Azzarello's dialogue the comic is able to simultaneously show and tell and better connect us to the characters.

It's hard to say what a new reader might want or expect from the comic but I feel like we didn't learn too much about Diana, about her motivations or origins; all I really felt I learned was that she likes to sleep naked and head-butt horse-people. And perhaps the parts with the Gods could have used a bit more clarity, some names might help the uninitiated. However I think the things left unsaid make the comic more intriguing rather than vague or confusing.

Rating: B

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Monday, 19 September 2011

The Trip, Part Two/Dva/Két/Dvě

The Trip
Alex "Dash" Spencer and Dominic "Party Pants" Parsons began their sweep across South-East Europe, encountering artery-killing food, wrestling Russians, and Western European Guilt. But with three destinations down, there were still eight countries to visit, drain dry of their chocolatiest resources, and write about at length. Their adventures continue in this, the second thrilling installment of The Trip.
Because what more magical time is there than 5am? The walk from the station, as the sun began to happen, took us past what would remain my favourite sight in all of Zagreb: the long wall of graffiti. It was (officially-sanctioned) street art at its finest, blank stretch of urban space and transforming it into something playful. To be honest, it's something Zagreb could have done with more of. It's handsome city, well-kept and just the right size, but it felt a little like a blank slate. In the blistering heat of first day, heavily punctuated by naps, putting our own stamp on it just felt like far too much effort.

It took until the next day, jumping from bar to bar drinking irresponsibly and with veracity, for it all to click. Dom choked down an accidentally ordered 'Amaro'; in a moment of conciliation, I burnt away a few throat cells with some 'Stock'. (The exact nature of both spirits remains a mystery.) Everything just worked, landing us in Kaptolska klet for the largest mixed-grill-to-share ever encountered by humankind.
Train 4: Zagreb –> Budapest
By now, we'd settled into a rhythm. Not full-on ADVENTURE!, not the mind-losing boredom of Train 2. Just a peaceful seven hours spent keeping to ourselves, until the train was invaded by a load of post-festival local tweens with no respect for personal space. Never have I become so quickly acquainted with a young lady's feet! And without socks! I say!

For our shortest stay of the trip (approximately 18 hours, including a lengthy and much-needed sleep), I felt strangely done with Budapest by the time we left. We were masters of time and our own fate... or just lucked out a bit. Picking a route to and from dinner (Trofea Grill, uncontested king of surprisingly classy all-u-can-eat-and-drink meat and wine) through the Városliget park is probably the reason for this. Coming back along its north edge at twilight exposed us to Vajdahunyad Castle, beautifully lit, and along the Andrássy Út boulevard. Delightful!

Train 5: Budapest –> Prague
Two trains in two days. 14 hours out of 48. Travelling shouldn't have been this much of a pleasure. But the novelty of modern, air conditioned trains, plenty of food and drink, and a cabin to ourselves? This was the Interrail experience we'd dreamed of.

The first stop I - in fact, both of us - had visited before, three years earlier, on the holiday that served as a blueprint for this journey. The entire city was overlaid with half-memories - is this where...? didn't we...? - and expectations. And of course we landed, completely by accident, in the same cocktail bar we'd behaved disgracefully in three years prior (Harley's, Dlouhá 18, complete with slightly dodgy Jack Daniels rock theme, graffitied walls and inexplicably ice-filled urinals). One reasonably priced Long Island Iced Tea later, and it wasn't hard to remember why. Many cocktails later, it was hard to remember how we'd even gotten there. In the meantime, the city had hit that weird hour where bars were just getting lively, but all the restaurants were closing. And so we ended up in La Casa Blů (Kozí 857/15), a tapas bar, eating a Czech interpretation of everyone's favourite pick-&-mix Spanish food.
Cue the next morning, more half-memories and a day of wandering the city feeling hazy and homeless. The hangover landed us in some tourist trap restaurant (Hotel Prague Inn, 28. října 378/15), looking to repent for the tapas and get a solid, honest, 'Polish'. On this front it delivered: well-cooked meat, slightly sweet cabbage and dumplings galore (my moravský vrabec) and a touch of the strange in Dom's svíčková na smetaně, beef served with whipped cream. But then the accumulated hidden/semi-hidden charges and apparently compulsory tip kicked in, as is a tourist trap tradition.

The feeling of disparity and being cheated (and homeless) knocked us off balance for a few hours until we found another centre in Petrin Hill. We were chasing an ambiguous road sign promising a possibly non-existent maze, but a steep climb to the top yielded great, if tree-obscured, views and a sense of smug self-satisfaction from watching people get on and off the funicular. Homeless or not, we were empirically better than them, and what greater holiday feeling is there?

(Additional photos over on the Dirty Mistress Tumblr)

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London, United Kingdom
Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.