Writer, Editor, Author

Tag: Green Lantern

New 52 Notes: Green Lantern books, OMAC, Supergirl, Wonder Woman

Reading Green Lantern #3 and Green Lantern Corps #3, I’m impressed by the quality of the latter, technically second-tier title for delivering the kind of action and outer-spacey adventure I like to see from the title. Though it got quite cluttered in the second issue, the “Ring Slayers” story shines again in a very good third issue. The former also is very good, but I don’t recall Hal Jordan ever being this much of a hot-headed jerk. Reading these together, it almost feels like Hal and Guy Gardner swapped roles.
OMAC #3 delivers pretty much the same story as the first two issues did — Kevin Kho lands himself in an odd place where he has to fight a powerful and turns into OMAC to win the day. It’s still good, but overly serialized in a bad way and the overall plot is being pushed too far into the background. I still love the art, which has obvious Kirby roots but also a nice modern sheen to give it a contemporary look.

In retrospect, I think the first two issues of Supergirl should have been one issue — either a condensed version of the two-part story or a double-size issue. It just reads that way to me. Supergirl #3 takes things in a different direction, as Supergirl tries to find out the truth about where she is and how she got here and acquires a new (at least I think he’s new) nemesis in Simon Tycho. So far, I like the writing on this book and the take writers Michael Green and Mike Johnson have on the character. The art takes a slight detour here, with Bill Reinhold’s inking and Paul Mounts’ coloring darkening the overall bright look of the first two issues. It’s not an improvement, but it’s definitely not the kind of bright and inviting look that seem to best suit this character.
Wonder Woman #3 was the best issue to date of the series, which itself is one of the best of The New 52. It’s hard to say too much about this without giving away rather significant origin-related spoilers. But just about everything in this comic book works, from Brian Azzarello’s plot and script to the art by Cliff Chiang and outstanding colors by  Matthew Wilson. Excellent stuff. 

The New 52, Wave 2, Pt. 2: Green Trumps Red, Superboy and Deathstroke Surprise

Sorry about the long delay in New 52 reviews and other series. I had a lot of assignments come in that I had to get off my plate, which is great news for any freelancer but it means the blog gets delayed.

One story I wrote is of note to folks here, which is my article on Sam Register’s running of Warner Bros. Animation and the studio’s surge in production and success in brand building. One of the big examples is the upcoming DC Nation show, which is still hard to peg down in terms of content, but it will include some sweet-sounding animated shorts that I think fans will get a real kick out of. DC Nation is due to start airing on Cartoon Network next summer. The story ran in Variety and, if you’re a subscriber and can get past the paywall, you can read it here.

A couple other stories I’ve done for the current issue of Animation Magazine that may be of interest include my story on the making of Batman: Year One, which I think is really good; and this story on MTV Animation, including the return of Beavis and Butt-head, as well as a new toon called Good Vibes that turned out to be a nice surprise.

I continue to be lucky enough for DC publicity to still be sending me all the New 52 issues, as I have had no time to even hit the comic shop for the past few weeks. I’ve had to refresh my memory on the rest of the releases from the second week of the New 52, and changed my initial opinion in a few cases.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1 was a bit of a disappointment even though there’s nothing wrong with it. I love the title, but expected a little more crazy and a lot more fun. Instead, we have a fairly standard setup as Frankenstein is now working for the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive and is sent on a mission to save a town where monsters are stripping the skin off people. Also, Frankenstein’s wife went in on the mission first and has gone missing. He’s joined by a quartet of new, monster-like agents and there’s a some nice fighting scenes. The art by Alberto Ponticelli is solid, though somewhat generic for a monster-themed title, and Jeff Lemire’s script lacks the wit, characterization, or the kind of just plain weirdness that would have set this apart. I think the Wachowski Bros.’ Doc Frankenstein series of a few years back was a much more fun take on a very similar idea.

A number of reviews of Green Lantern #1 say it’s very much a continuation of the previous Green Lantern run. I don’t know because I wasn’t reading it before now. This impressed me, however, as one of the most new-reader friendly books so far. Written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy, this issue finds Hal Jordan no longer a Green Lantern and living jobless and in need of cash on Earth. Meanwhile, Sinestro somehow is once again a member of the Corps and would like to change that, leading to him approaching Jordan about some kind of deal. I think you could give this comic to anyone who saw the Green Lantern movie and they’d be able to follow it no problem. It features Hal, Carol Ferris and Sinestro, all pretty much as they were in the movie and easy to identify. The art is clear and I think the story has enough interest for such folks to enjoy it and want to read more. For die-hard fans, it’s probably little different from reading Green Lantern #68.

Red Lanterns #1, on the other hand, was a colossal mess and one of my least favorite books in the New 52. I had a hard time following this one at all as none of the characters were introduced or given any kind of sympathetic characterization. I know the Red Lanterns use the power of rage, and that explains the overall nasty tone and dark imagery of the book. But without some kind of clarity to the story or a character through which to latch on to, this was just an unpleasant experience that I have no interest in revisiting.

Resurrection Man #1 feels like a book out of time, reminding me very much of something DC or Wildstorm would have put out in the 1990s. Which is not a bad thing, per se. I know this was a cult hit series from the late 1990s and the original writers, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, are back. I still felt a little lost here, that I would better understand everything going on here if I’d read the original series. Basically, the hero comes back to life each time he’s killed with a new power. Here, he comes back, boards a flight to Portland that goes wrong in a lot of ways. I liked that this had action and some nice art from Fernando Dagnino that evokes the feel of early Vertigo titles. But it still didn’t grab me. I don’t see the reason for this title, but I could be convinced. That’s a maybe on issue 2.

I was interested to see what Scott Lobdell, best known for being one of the most prolific Marvel writers of the 1990s and a longtime writer on X-Men, would do at DC. Superboy #1 is definitely on the good end of the Lobdell spectrum, which means it’s a pretty fun book, with light, breezy and fun dialog. The art by R.B. Silva and Rob Lean is not what I expected from the cover, which is by Eric Canete. It’s got a bright, open-line approach and works very well with the story. Oh, yeah, the story: Superboy is being grown in a test-tube from some kind of Kryptonian biological sample. We’ve seen that before, from the 1994 version of Superboy. I also liked that this series slips in Caitlin Fairchild from Gen 13, even though she’s only partly confirmed as being that character. This looks like it will be an entertaining book about young superheroes, which Lobdell did quite will on early Generation X. I don’t know if this will hold up and still be that interesting after 12 issues, but I did dig this first issue.

And the final book in this week’s New 52 releases is Deathstroke #1, which threw me for a loop that I liked quite a bit. This starts out kind of slowly, with the sort of story you’d expect about the character as he was introduced so many years ago in The New Teen Titans. This time, his employer saddles him with a team and Deathstroke goes along with, until he doesn’t. And that twist took me by surprise, in a good way. Writer Kyle Higgins in one fell swoop makes this the most ruthless book in the DC Universe, and he does it by keeping the character of Deathstroke intact. The art by Joe Bennett and Art Thibert is quite nice, but the thing that really works for me was that this book really took my by surprise. Obviously, they can’t pull off this kind of twist every issue, but I’m intrigued enough to try another.

Next week: Wonder Woman! Batman! Supergirl! And more! 

Covering ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’

Chris Evans stars in Captain America: The First Avenger.

I should mention that I occasionally write for Newsarama.com, and wrote for them some articles on Captain America: The First Avenger.

These usually involve attending a junket, which consists of some combination of a press conference, roundtable interviews and one-on-one interviews. Nine times out of ten, these junkets are held at the Four Seasons Hotel on Doheny in Beverly Hills, so anyone who’s looking for a star sighting in L.A. could do a lot worse than to hang out at the valet station of this hotel. For example, while waiting for my car after the Cap junket, actor Jason Bateman pulled up and hopped out to meet with some publicists working on, I assume, something related to Horrible Bosses or The Change-Up.

Anyway, in addition to getting to see the movie in 3D a week early on the Paramount lot, I showed up at the Four Seasons for a press conference with the filmmakers. On the panel were director Joe Johnston; screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; and Marvel Studios execs Kevin Feige and Louis D’Esposito. You can read what came of that session here.

That was followed by roundtables, where a hotel room is set up for groups of journalists — usually around a dozen or so at a time — to interview the talent. These are strictly timed and usually very short, forcing the interviewers to jockey for position to ask their questions before your 10 minutes with Chris Evans is up. For Cap, the actors did the roundtables, and we got a few minutes with Evans, the charming Hayley Atwell and Sebastian Stan. Read what came my group’s short session with Evans here.

Sometimes there even is a takeaway or, more accurately, a gift bag offered to the press. The bag at Cap included an action figure, a collectible cup from Dunkin Donuts, a copy of the soundtrack on CD and a Cap-branded copy of Norton Internet Security 2011 that is useless to me because I only work on Macs. There also are production notes with bios, credits and information on the making of the film for journalists to use as reference.

The third and final piece I wrote from the Cap junket was this review, which most people reading this blog will be able to compare with their own views on the film now that it’s been out in theaters for three weekends.

A lot of sites will take some of these interviews and transcribe them into Q and A style interviews. I’ve tried to do that in the past, but have come to the conclusion that it’s a huge pain in the ass and not nearly as effective as writing a more traditional news story. Writing an article, you can put the appropriate emphasis on what people say in interviews, provide context and get the point across much more clearly. Transcribing an interview is a tedious process that exposes the vast divide between the way people use language when they talk and clear writing. The latter is almost always better, devoid of the filler language most people are never aware is used unless you have to try to write it out. Email interviews are almost always better for quick Q and A’s. Long audio interviews like you’d find in the Comics Journal would require a lot of back and forth, editing and copy editing to get to the published state.

I managed to see Captain America: The First Avenger a second time when my wife and I had the opportunity to leave the house without the baby while some friends babysat for us. I liked the movie more the second time, and even though I enjoyed the 3D on the first viewing, I saw the 2D version the second time and it didn’t affect my opinion of the experience in the slightest.

I think Avengers looks like it’s going to be the blockbuster of 2012, and I’m impressed with how well Marvel Studios has pulled off this big plan to build to it, starting way back with the first Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. I liked Thor okay and thought X-Men: First Class was terrific, so the summer’s been good for Marvel movies.

I was less impressed with Green Lantern, which was never obviously terrible but was so formulaic in the way it told the origin story and so rigidly followed the conventions of superhero movies that it just never added up to anything memorable. Green Lantern 2 needs to go in a different direction, so I suggest they reduce Hal Jordan to a cameo and make the movie about Guy Gardner, John Stewart and G’Nort. It most likely would tank at the box office, but at least people would have a reaction of some kind to what’s on the screen, even it’s just that two of those three characters are annoying as hell.

Fixing the X-Men: Shorter, crazier stories based in the real-world

X-Men has been thoroughly dethroned as the top franchise in comics, replaced in sales and popularity among superheroes by Green Lantern, the Avengers and Batman. Sales are down, interest is down and the X-Men line is just kind of dismissed by bloggers and podcasters as a property coasting on past successes more than one that innovates, entertains and is a commercial success.

No one who’s read this blog or my book or spoken to me about it at a con or online will mistake me for anything other than a big fan of the X-Men. That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize a ton of crappy X-Men comics have been published over the life of the title. But I do think the X-Men stands apart from pretty much every other superhero out there because its concept is capable of delivering a great deal more emotional depth. X-Men is, at heart, a science fiction concept that features many conventions of the superhero genre. You could do X-Men without code names, costumes, secret identities and crime-fighting elements that define most superheroes. But by making the X-Men mutants — granted powers by accident of birth — and turning them into a race or even a class of potentially dangerous people pitted against normal humans, X-Men has a greater potential to become something deeper and more significant than the superpowered cops commonly found in Avengers or Green Lantern.

The X-Men’s current decline easily began the moment Grant Morrison left New X-Men, ending the last great run of innovation the title has seen. That was 2004, and was followed in 2005 by Marvel placing renewed emphasis on the Avengers, beginning its ascension to the top of the charts starting with Avengers: Disassembled and The New Avengers. I think there were a lot of reasons for this shift, but the most interesting was that also was about the time that Marvel began planning to make its own movies. With the X-Men movies rights and profits locked up at Fox indefinitely, it simply makes sense for Marvel to put all its efforts into building up the Avengers into the most recognizable and profitable brand.

I dropped all Avengers books shortly after the recent relaunch because I think writer Brian Michael Bendis’ style has grown increasingly stale and lazy. How long can you quote movies from the 1980s in a pastiche of David Mamet and Kevin Smith before people stop calling it brilliant? How many issues can you write where superheroes sit around eating and drinking coffee and chatting about nothing while all the action happens off-panel? Bendis is on track to find out.

The X-Men books these days are not horrible, but they’re not great either. What they lack more than anything is the kind of wild energy and the constant sense of elevating danger that marked the best days of the series. The former is a problem that afflicts most comics these days, while the latter stems from the need for the X-Men metaphor to evolve and reflect the nature of being an outsider.

So how to fix that? I have some ideas:

Stop writing comics like they’re movies or TV shows and starting writing them like they’re comic books again.

This is a problem that affects most mainstream comics these days. It’s not uncommon for dialog scenes in superhero comics to run two or three pages, with four or five panels per page. This works for Tommy Schlamme on The West Wing, but in comics, it is extremely boring. Flipping through the current arc of The Uncanny X-Men, “Quarantine,” there’s a LOT of talking. The first issue, #530, starts with two pages of Emma talking to Kitty, followed by a page of almost-naked Emma talking to Scott, followed by three pages of Anole talking about getting sick, a page of Northstar and Dazzler having dinner, two pages of The Collective talking and one of them tearing up a convenience store, followed by a super-exciting two-page press conference, and on and on. Boring.

Similarly, a couple of issues later we get a big fight between Emma and Sebastian Shaw, while Northstar et al. are fighting the Collective in San Francisco. Despite most of that issue, #532, featuring some kind of action, these sequences still lack energy and fail to generate any kind of excitement. I think a lot of it comes from Land’s heavy reliance on photo reference. In theory, photos should make good starting points for comic panels, but in practice the artists who rely on photo reference produce work that looks stiff, or even frozen. Good comic art has a natural look and the storytelling flows from panel to panel and page to page. I don’t think you’ll ever get that flow cobbling together panels based on pictures from Sports Illustrated, TV Guide and the Victoria’s Secret catalog.

In movies and TV, time is valuable. In comics, it’s space. And wasting so much space and so many pages on endless dialog and stilted action simply runs counter to the strengths of comics as a medium. Add in the stretching out of storylines over four or six issues, which often ship late, and the number of people who wait for collected editions to read and it’s almost impossible to avoid material that feels stilted, thin and stretched beyond its limits. At a time when communication is speeding up and people are abandoning short forms of communication like email and blog posts for even shorter and quicker hits offered by Twitter and Facebook, this is an even worse approach. I don’t know why comics aren’t more focused on making each issue, each episode as jam-packed full of cool stuff as they possible can rather than boring everyone to death with decompressed, to-be-continued and irrelevant material.

Next: be subversive. I think good comics are a lot like good rock ‘n’ roll (or any good art): it must challenge the reader in some way. In comics’ case, that usually means being subversive in some ways. X-Men was always good at that, featuring characters who are always on the outside of society looking in. It’s a great premise for criticizing just about any aspect of society. And looking at the state of the world today, there is no shortage of things to criticize. However, X-Men in the post-Morrison years has been astonishingly conservative, sticking to an interpretation of the mutants and their relationship with society that fails to evolve and remains exceedingly safe.

Perhaps that’s to be expected. Both DC and Marvel’s books have felt increasingly like the products of a corporation in recent years, shedding the personalities that the artists and writers used to bring to them. It often feels like I’m not reading a comic anymore, but a marketing plan or press kit takeaway.

The antidote to this has to be taking some chances with X-Men stories, going beyond what’s been established in the past 48 years of comic books and take a few digs at society. The good news is there is no shortage of conflict in the world right now — economic, political, religious, racial — X-Men could easily tap into. The bad news is that Marvel is a big corporation and can’t be expected to court the kind of controversy subversive comics would bring.

So if anyone were to ask me what could be done to fix the X-Men comics, here’s what I would do.

  • Shorter, punchier storylines. Throw lots of strange ideas in there and see what sticks.
  • Get the X-Men off Utopia. Putting all these characters on a fake island where all they have to do is talk to each other has turned out to be deadly dull. This is a book that needs to connect with the real world, and they can’t do that on Utopia.
  • Return a sense of dread to the book. Claremont did this extremely well, by making mutants powerful enough that it was credible for normal humans to hate and fear them. He also had an ear for the kinds of arguments used in the media at the time to discuss divisive issues and shrewdly injected imagery from the Holocaust to great effect.
  • Tap into real world issues. The Holocaust imagery evoked a universal and undeniable sense of fear and horror in to the X-Men that stood in for a number of different interpretations of the mutant metaphor. It could be about race, it could be about religion, it could be about just being an outsider or it could be about being gay. For too long — ever since Claremont left in 1991 — X-Men has relied a little too much on the homosexual interpretation. A lot of this became more obvious for many folks after Bryan Singer’s movies. But gay rights have come a long way in the last 20 years, and no longer carries the kind of stigma it did in the 1980s and even in the 1990s. With the shrill political, cultural and religious environment found in the United States, there’s lots of ways to move beyond the Holocaust imagery and find new threats for the mutants based on real-life stuff that’s extremely compelling.
  • Put the X-Men in direct conflict with humanity. The idea of an all-out war between humans and mutants has been inherent in the concept from the start. It’s been 48 years since X-Men #1 — isn’t it time we saw this at long last? There’s enough X-books, and I could see this as a great new status quo for the X-Men for the next several years.

I’d love to hear what other fans have to say — fire away in the comments if you’re so inclined.

Sweeping up after the Watchmen

Watchmen did a respectable number at the box office this weekend, grossing $55.7 million domestically and $27.5 million overseas for a grand total of $83.2 million. How high the number goes will help determine whether any of the studios make any money off the film. Costs are high due to an immersive advertising campaign and the legal dispute between Fox and Warner Bros. that will spread around the money that does come in. It’ll take another week or so to see how well the film holds up business wise.

But the reaction to the film is the most interesting part. It’s all over the place from both fans and non-fans calling it everything from an absolute disaster all the way up to an undisputed masterpiece.

I think it’s all in what you’re looking for in this film — people interested in the plot are pleased to see so much of it in the film, while those who go in looking for the tone, meaning and underlying themes of the graphic novel are coming out disappointed.

What’s undisputed is this all makes for some great debates and discussion. This film has so far brought out (mostly) thoughtful and intelligent comments on all aspects of the film and the comic, indicating that the movie has at the very least succeeded in engaging people’s brains in a way few other movies of this type ever have.

What’s really fascinating is the way even the slightest changes or omissions are noticed and felt by people who read the book. Whether it’s wishing for a scene that better explains how Sally pushed Laurie into being a superhero, to wondering why we don’t see Seymour the intern before the film’s final shot, it’s a testament to the book that almost nothing can be removed or altered without being noticed. It’s also a testament to the film that even critics are willing to admit that even when these elements come up short that the filmmakers’ intentions were such that they’d have put it in if they could.

Many of the discussions have softened my previous position on the film a bit. With a bit of distance, I too am quite impressed by just how much of the book got onto the screen. It certainly could have been a lot worse, and there is hope to be had that the director’s cut will put back in just enough to push this one over the top.

So, what will Watchmen’s impact be on the superhero and comic book movie genre? Unless Watchmen has incredible legs and the box office begins to creep into Iron Man or Dark Knight territory, probably not much. It definitely fits in well with the trend toward more sophisticated fare those two films established last year. But since this is not a franchise that will produce sequels that would extend its influence, it’s unlikely we’ll see a lot of Watchmen imitators. That there’s also not a lot of comic book material out there that stands up to the quality of Watchmen means the film should remain its own, self-contained thing. Instead, look for a slight turn away from the darkness, which X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the potential Green Lantern movie are likely to deliver.

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