Game Review: Diablo 3

Diablo 3 is out. But is it a game? Or is it the most brilliant money making scam in internet history?

Movie Review: The Avengers

Okay, okay, I posted my Avengers review. Get off my back already, geez.

The Most Important Comic Book You've Never Heard Of

Action Comics #1. Detective Comics #27. Why is All-American Men of War #89 as important as these great comics -- and why have you never heard of it?.

Tales From the Vault: Lois Lane #93

If you thought Superman was a total tool before, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Mass Effect 3: The Official Review

Mass Effect 3 isn't the end of the world, it just portrays it.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

We here at The Vault would like to wish everyone a happy new year. Over the course of the last few months, literally trillions of people have stopped by The Vault to check out our articles and editorials, and we appreciate every one of them. In the weeks to come, with these busy holidays finally behind us, you can expect to see some new content coming your way, including a review of the just completed decade in comics, the much anticipated overview of Boy Comics that we've been promising for so long, and perhaps even the frequently requested countdown of top DC covers.

For now, though, we'll leave you with this injunction from Lev Gleason (which you can click on to enlarge) to have a Happy New Year... OR ELSE!

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Game Review: Uncharted 2

If you're into gaming, chances are you've at least heard people talking about the newest must-have game in the Playstation 3 library, Uncharted 2. Supposedly some of the best graphics ever, people say. Great game play. Revolutionize the industry with a its mix of blockbuster-level cinematics and unusually sharp writing.

Well, we've finally had a chance to play Uncharted 2 and now we can reveal the facts: it's all true.

Building on the legacy of the classic Tomb Raider franchise, Uncharted 2 follows the adventures of treasure hunter Nathan Drake as he tries to unravel some of history's most unusual mysteries in order to find a legendary mystical artifact. It's a tried and true formula in both games and in cinema, from National Treasure to Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. But Uncharted 2 sets itself apart by simply being better than anything that has gone before it.

Okay, maybe not better than the original Indiana Jones film trilogy, but even just watching someone else play the game is a more immersive and compelling experience than anything National Treasure has been able to heave up on the screen. That's mainly because the writing is significantly more engaging than your typical Hollywood blockbuster; while some plot points are a bit obvious (a certain early betrayal is completely unexpected, for instance), the interaction between the characters is believable, which in turns makes even the most outlandish plot points (demon yetis, anyone?) seem believable by extension.

And then there's the graphics. The only way to play this game is on a large, HD television, because anything less would be disrespecting the meticulous work put in by the folks at Naughty Dog. And as you go through the game (which took me about nine hours to complete on normal mode), the graphics, impressive to begin with, only seem to get better and better, with spectacular vistas and realistic weather effects. Some cinematics even approach film-level CGI while, unlike your typical blockbuster film, the fantastically rendered environments are fully interactive.

So what is there to dislike about the game? Well, not much, if anything. The tracking system is a little sluggish (though not as much as in the first game) making some fight sequences a little more difficult than strictly necessary. And... that's it. We haven't had a chance to fully explore the online capabilities, but as far as the central plotline itself, that's about the only downside we were able to come up with. And that's really picking nits.

Grades: The online experience gets an I for incomplete, though it looks good on the surface; we just haven't been able to get the system hooked up to the net yet to try it. Everything else gets an A+ across the board. If you can only play one game in your life, this is the one.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

One of the big questions this holiday movie season was whether Sherlock Holmes or Avatar would end up taking the box office crown. But, of course, there was another question looming equally large: would they both, in fact, suck?

Well, we've had a chance to see Sherlock Holmes and while the movie could certainly have been better, it definitely could have been much, much worse. With that in mind, then, it is our official position at The Vault the Sherlock Holmes does not suck.

Granted, that's not exactly the most ringing endorsement, but we mean no slight to what the movie is. Rather, it's simply a result of how often this kind of hich-octane modernization of Victorian action stories have totally sucked in recent years. Wild, Wild West, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Van Helsing are just a few examples of the complete crap that Hollywood has turned out trying to make period blockbusters "cool" for today's history-impared audiences.

Sherlock Holmes manages to rise above those low standards thanks mainly to the work of stars Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, who bring energy and verve to their well-worn roles and imbue the film with a camaraderie that make the entire affair palatable and even occasionally fun. Yes, the plot twists, villains and puzzles are relatively slapdash (though still miles above the similar nonsense in the more modernly themed Robert Langdon films like Angels and Demons) and some elements appear to be red herrings (a lot of time is spent showing how Holmes can dissect fights, for instance, for reasons that escape me), but overall the energy of Downey -- like his soul brother Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean films -- is enough to carry the movie over the rough parts.

The one real misstep, in fact, is the love interest, a scheming thief played by Rachel McAdams. I'm not sure there was a single scene involving her character in the entire movie that worked on any level; the character was thin at best and pointless at worst and McAdams, who has been fine in plenty of other movies, seemed as lost as the writers who scripted her scenes. As the heart of the movie is the soul bond between Watson and Holmes, which is underscored just fine by the subplot involving Sherlock's displeasure at Watson's impending marriage, her presence as a love interest seemed completely superfluous and unnecessary, as Holmes seemed more than fulfilled by both the love of the game and the manly bonding he shares with Watson. While Watson's fiancee proves sympathetic in her few scenes, McAdams proves to be an unnecessary and unwanted distraction.

Overall, though, the film was entertaining enough (though they were just a bit heavy handed in setting up the sequel). And when it comes to this genre, anything short of complete suckage is a huge bonus, so the fact that the film ends up being mildly enjoyable is both a surprise and a relief.

My Grades: Downey and Law get straight A's, while director Guy Ritchie gets a B- for not making this suck nearly as much as it certainly could have. The final grade for the film: also a B-, but a fun one.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

From everyone at The Vault, here's wishing you and your arch nemesis both a Merry Christmas. Hopefully Santa Doom brought something good (or evil) for you this year.

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top Ten Santa Covers: Part 2

Welcome to day two of our countdown of the top ten Santa covers in comics history. Yesterday we brought you numbers 6-10, so that can mean only one thing for today -- or five things as the case may be: numbers 1-5. So treat yourself to the merriest of Christma Eves with a stroll down comic book lane with good ol' Santa.

5) Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special #1

This is probably the most famous Santa story in the history of comics, which is saying something. Nothing good, mind you, but something, anyway. Lobo was originally created as a spoof of Wolverine's over-the-top, grim-n-gritty attitude, but the joke was on DC, because fans took him seriously and made him one of the most popular characters of the early 90's. This special is both the pinnacle of, and a parody of, those times.

4) Giant Superhero Holiday Grab Bag #1

Ok, we'll admit, this one is cheating a little, because Santa technically isn't on this cover, instead being subtly replaced by fill-in Ben Grimm. Still, we can buy Thing as Santa a little easier than we can buy a grinning hulk as Blitzen, so why not? Besides, this cover reminds us, like Christmas itself, of a simpler time, when superheroes could find time in their busy schedule of angst and woe to have some light-hearted holiday cheer. We'll tip back the eggnog to that idea.

3) Hulk #378

Speaking of the Hulk, here he is wailing on a mall Santa like the big jerk he is. Hulk, I mean, not Santa. The fact that Santa is giving Hulk a whooping with a crowbar, however, is one of the most perfect presents we could have asked for. Now if only St. Nick would pound that lame character right out of existence, we'd really have a jolly old time.

2) Peter Parker, Spectacular Spider-man #112

Writer Peter David must have a thing for Santa, because here his is for the second spot in a row, backing this terrific cover from Rich Buckler. Of course, knowing Buckler, he must have swiped it from somewhere, but regardless, it's pretty cool. We mentioned yesterday how Santa has been dirtied up starting in the mid-80's; while some would cite the Hitman cover where Santa has a gun jammed in his mouth as the top example of this, we prefer Santa to do the whooping, thanks very much. And if you can't find your crowbar, this gun will do nicely.

1) Panic #1

One of the true classics from the beloved EC Comics is this cover from Panic #1. As it turns out, Rich Buckler isn't the only swipe specialist going, as this cover seems to be an "homage" to More Fun Comics #16, which similarly shows a kid setting a bear trap for Santa. While that early example was done in a very 30's cartooning style, however, this more sinister version is timeless thanks to that sadistic EC touch. That is one evil looking kid right there, huh? Not everyone found this issue funny, of course; the state of Massachusetts banned it because the parody of Twas the Night Before Christmas inside was deemed to "desecrate Christmas."

You go, Bill Gaines.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Ten Santa Covers: Part 1

It's almost Christmas, so in the spirit of giving, we're going to give you not one but two days of holiday cheer as we count down the Top Ten Santa Covers in comics history. Today it's numbers 6-10. So put on your festive hat and get ready, because it's time to jingle, comic book style.

10) Daredevil #229

Coming in at number ten on our list is one of the most famous Santa moments in comic history, as shown on the cover of Daredevil #229. Midway through Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's acclaimed "Born Again" storyline, Matt Murdock reaches his nadir when he gets shivved by a dude in a Santa outfit. The 80's were filled with this sort of grim and gritty representation of Santa, but few are as well known as this.

9) Captain Marvel Adventures #19

In motif that we will see more of tomorrow, Santa discovers that you don't need reindeer when you have superheroes instead. In this case, he doesn't need a sleigh either, as the Big Cheese totes Santa right on his back.

8) DC Comics Presents #67

Heck, this one has the word "presents" right in the title! This is also cover that is great in part because it seems so obvious once you see it: Santa vs. Toyman. Duh! Why did it take them so long to come up with that idea?

7) More Fun Comics #39

You know what's fun? The infamously violent labor disputes of the mid 1930's. You know what's More Fun? When those disputes involve Santa and his elves! This cover must have been a major pick-me-up for kids during the depths of the depression. Or, wait. No, no it probably wasn't.

6) Action Comics #105

For years, kids around the globe have wondered how Santa could fit down that chimney. Now, at last, the answer can be revealed: Superman shoves him in there using his alien super strength. Not exactly how we pictured it.

Tomorrow: The Top Five!

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Gift Guide

The holidays are fast approaching or, depending on your faith and customs, have already passed. Or are currently ongoing. Or, you know, whatever. But whatever your ambiguous situation, chances are you might be giving gifts to someone and if that someone is a fan of comics, then you might be wondering what to get them. Assuming all of these things happen to be true, then, you're in luck! Because here, without further ado, we present the official Vault Holiday Gift Guide for 2009. And have a merry... whatever.

The Book of Genesis
Illustrated by R. Crumb

Hey, remember the Bible? Big black leather book with your name embossed on the cover that you got from your grandpa when you went to Vacation Bible School that one time and learned how to make wallets out of pipe cleaners? Well, now there's a reason to actually read the Bible, as infamous cartoonist R. Crumb has put together a stunning illustrated version of the book of Genesis. Crumb, of course, is best known as the star and creative impetus behind the underground Comix scene of the late 60's and early 70's, but here had plays it straight with a faithful adaptation that will have fans of both Crumb and the Bible seeing things in a new light. You can pick it up at Amazon for just $14.58.

Asterios Polyp

David Mazzucchelli

David Mazzucchelli is rightfully famous, and not just for having three sets of double letters in his last name. The acclaimed artist -- who rose to fame by drawing two of writer Frank Miller's greatest works, Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again -- seemingly vanished into thin air twenty years ago. Turns out he was actually honing his craft, something that fans of his earlier work might find impossible. The result of his labor; Asterios Polyp, which has become the critical darling of the year in comics cricles and has landed on more than one mainstream media top ten books list this year. You can check out what all the hype is about at Amazon for $19.77. Mind you, we're not sure how they get prices that low without ripping somebody off on the back end, but there it is.

Iron Man Hoodie

Okay, how cool is this Iron Man hoodie, right? It's got a variation on the original logo from the 1968 launch of Iron Man's solo title (sans rivets), while the picture of Iron Man is along the same lines (i.e. it appears at first blush to be the classic armor but upon closer look it's actually an early 90's variation; I can't quite figure out who the artist is, though, if it is Layton). The only down side to this item is that it appears to only come in boy's sizes. There is, though, a 'husky" option, so it's possible you could get it in the right size for your adult friend by ordering it in, say, Quintuple Husky. It's offered by Old Navy of all places for $26.50.

Strange Suspense: The Steve Ditko Archives

Art by Ditko, writing blissfully not

Before Ditko became Ditko (in other words, before he went off the deep end courtesy of Ayn Rand), he was an up-and-coming artist working on low brow horror comics for Simon & Kirby, Atlas and Charlton among others, much of it in the pre-code days where anything went. This volume collects some of those rare earliest works so you can see first hand how one of the most acclaimed artists in comics history developed his unique personal style. And, best of all, you don't have to read his obtuse rants about relativism. Hurray!

Knit Lumberjack Beard Hat

Everyone needs to stay warm during the winter, and that often means getting a giant knit hat to keep your head cozy. Unfortunately, that's what most of them look like: oversized tea cozies that are on your noodle. Well, not anymore. With the simple addition of a knit moustache -- which also has the added benefit of keeping your face warm -- you can turn this dowdy hat into a sartorial delight by presenting to the world your own Lumberjack Beard. This brilliant idea comes from the good folks at Beard Head, who also offer Viking and Pirate versions and a wide array of interchangeable moustache styles. They are currently backordered on some styles, but the whole thing can be yours for just $29.99. Best. Idea. Ever.

Kirby: King of Comics
Mark Evanier

For our last choice, we suggest first finding out whether or not your comic fan already has this coffee table tome, because many readers have already picked this gem up. Painstakingly and lovingly written by Mark Evanier, who has carved out a respectable career in comics in his own right, this omnibus covers the whole of Jack Kirby's groundbreaking and unparalleled career, with a wealth of unique and rare images and unseen artwork. Considering that just about all superhero comics made in the past forty years have copied directly from the storytelling language Kirby pioneered, this is a book all comics fans should own and read. Pretty much any bookstore should have this, but Amazon is there if needed; the price tag online is $26.40.

What Not To Get

This hat.

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tales From the Vault: ACTION COMICS #313

Hey, kids! It's time for another installment of Tales Form the Vault, the feature where I dip into my stash of back issues and read them for you. It's just like holding the comic in your hands -- only over the internet! Magic.

Today's entry is the ironically titled Action Comics #313, featuring not one but two Silver Age DC "classics." Let's go to the tape!

Details: This bit of timeless nostalgia comes to us from June of 1964. It's really startling to read DC superhero comics from this era, because they are so placid and stale that you really gain an understanding of how Marvel became a cultural phenomenon so quickly. By the time this rote pair of formulaic stories came out, Marvel had already introduced pretty much all of their classic characters and was in the process of weaving them together into a revolutionary shared unvierse that looks even more vibrant when compared to this.

First Story Synopsis: First up we have a tale with art from Al Plastino and a script from... a mystery man. Probably someone trying to protect their reputation by leaving their name off the finished product, which is called "The End of Clark Kent's Secret Identity!" Technically, shouldn't that be "The End of Superman's Secret Identity"? I mean, that's what it says on the cover, so... huh?

Regardless, the story begins with one of those symbolic pages that encapsulates the story within, which begins thusly: Supergirl shows up at the Daily Planet and tells Perry White that Clark is Superman. Clark is aghast and she immediately apologizes, saying she doesn't know what came over her, but Perry agrees to cover for him anyway.

Next, Superman sees Batman (hey, Batman is in this issue, that's cool) sitting inside an armored car protecting some stuff. He flies over and clocks a bunch of thugs waiting to ambush the car, then shows Batman that the car was actually made of balsa wood, making him a sitting duck. Somehow the World's Greatest Detective didn't pick up on the fact that his car was made of wood. Don't these people realize that he's the goddamn Batman?

Anyway, next thing you know, Batman has told Lois Lane that Superman is Clark. Again, like Supergirl, Batman can't believe what he's done, but Lois is pretty much unfazed and also says she'll keep the secret. That's big of her. Two plus decades of trying to prove Clark is Superman and not so much as a blink.

Next up is Jimmy Olsen, who flies with Clark to the Arctic to investigate pirate attacks. That['s where all the best treasure is, after all: the Arctic. Superman finds the pirates' secret lair and defeats them, but suddenly the mermaid Lori Lemaris shows up and reveals Superman's identity to Jimmy. You know, that is one thing Silver Age Superman totally had all over today's version: one of his primary love interests was a mermaid. The post-Crisis version of Lori was just lame.

Back in the story, Superman is shocked at these betrayals, and wonders if his friends are brainwashed. He decides that if they aren't, they should be, so he corrals Jimmy, Lois and Perry and says that he's going to hypnotize them and make them forget about his secret identity. Hey Supes, just ask Dr. Strange to cast a spell over the Earth, that always works for me. Or better yet, get Zatanna to do it. She's pro.

Turns out he should have done one or the other, because not only does the hypnosis not work, but now his friends decide to blackmail him. Instead of giving in, however, he grabs them and heaves them all into the ocean! Wow, we've all wanted to do that to Superman's supporting cast, but I never expected Supes to actually do it himself.

At this point, a flying saucer shows up (naturally) and retrieves Superman's friends and we discover that they are all androids, created by The Android Master, who is working with The Superman Revenge Squad. That's a really cool name for a bunch of really, really lame villains. Superman, of course, had already deduced that all of his friends, including the traitorous ones who had revealed his identity, were androids. He quickly mops up the Revenge Squad and revives Batman from the suspended animation he was in, then makes it look like Clark was among those captured. Once again, his identity is saved!


Second Story Synopsis:
Next up is a Supergirl story called "Lena Thorul, Jungle Princess!" It's pretty illogical and convoluted, meaning it's just like the first story only with twice as much Supergirl, so I'm going to just boil it down to brass tacks. Lena Thorul is a psychic friend of Supergirl's who is trying to get into the FBI. Naturally. As a test assignment they send her to interview Lex Luthor. Unbeknownst to Lena, Lex Luthor is actually... HER BROTHER! Not only that, he's been hiding their connection for years because he loves her and doesn't want her to be shamed by their connection. Okay, didn't see either of those developments coming.

However, being psychic, she discovers this fact by reading his mind during their interview. She goes into shock and develops amnesia. All she knows is something horrible has happened and she has to flee. So she buys a plane ticket to Africa, having apparently just seen Almost Famous. Upon arrival, she grabs the wrong suitcase, which happens to be filled with props for an African jungle movie; the only thing she has to wear is a white zebra skin one-piece bathing suit.

Donning this outfit, she discovers that she can control animals with her psychic powers, so she becomes the Jungle Princess and starts driving off poachers and stuff. During one fight, she is grazed by a bullet and her memory returns. She decides to return to Metropolis but remain in the identity of Jungle Princess so that people won't find out she's Lex Luthor's sister.

Back in the big city, she becomes a circus sensation, drawing huge crowds with her animal tricks. But she freaks out because of the Lex thing, so Supergirl takes her place in the show. Suddenly, Lex breaks out of jail (having earlier been supplied gardening equipment by Supergirl -- just go with it) by genetically engineering a plant to grow into a huge vine for him to climb down. He rushes to the show and presents Lena with a genetically modified plant which emits a gas that causes amnesia. No explanation as to how Luthor could have developed this without developing amnesia himself.

Luckily, if someone gets amnesia when they already have amnesia, it becomes squared; so, once again, then, Lena has no idea of her connection to Luthor but is otherwise her normal self, so Supergirl returns him to jail and Lena joins the FBI.


Extras: Okay, a couple things jump out immediately, but they involve attempting to apply logic to Silver Age DC. And that's just a recipe for madness. Still, you have to winder why the Superman Revenge Squad needs to come up with such a convoluted plan to get their revenge if they already know his secret identity. I mean, i can come up with a dozen better ways to use that knowledge and I'm not even a professional super-villain. They don't have to go all Dr. Light, but surely they can come up with something.

Also, that Supergirl story; just, wow.

My Grades: Overall this gets a B for being an interesting look at the comics world of 1964 and how DC compared (or didn;t compare) to Marvel's rising tide. The actual stories, though, kind of suck; the Superman one gets a C- and the Supergirl one gets a B+ because it sucks in a much more entertaining way.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Movie Trailer Special: Iron Man 2

Okay, so it hasn't been that long since our last batch of Movie Trailer Reviews, but we're going to go right back to the well for a special occasion: the release of the Iron Man 2 trailer.

Yes, after months of speculation, hype and nervous anticipation, the trailer for next May's highly anticipated sequel to Iron Man has finally hit the internet. So how does it look? Well, let's take a peek and then we'll dissect the footage on the other side (p.s., don't be surprised if there's a bit of a load time, since everyone on the internet is trying to download this right now):

Okay. Whew. One sec, need to towel off.

Alright. So, this is a pretty sweet trailer for a few reasons, the most important one being that it teases the film without giving away the whole plotline. Now, if you've also seen the footage screen at Comic Con over the summer, you can probably piece together most of the story, but that's part of what makes this trailer so nice: it functions perfectly well without needing to reference or spoil every single twist or dramatic turnabout. It succeeds by reminding fans of the original why it was successful (the tone, set by Robert Downey, Jr.) and revealing the big supervillain (Mickey Rourke's version of Whiplash) and... that's it. It doesn't need to shoot the whole wad right in the trailer.

It does tease a few other elements for comic fans and sharp-eyed viewers, like Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury (last seen in the after-the-credits tease at the end of the first film, and here appearing in the first of his nine contractually stipulated Marvel films) and Scarlett's Johansson's take on Black Widow, the mere existence of which is about enough to make our head explode.

Not shown in the trailer or even hinted at is the Sam Rockwell's portrayal of Stark's number one rival, Justin Hammer. And that's a good thing, because it means that fans hooked by this preview will still get some surprises when the film comes out (though we're guessing Rockwell will eventually be featured in one trailer or another).

It's not perfect, of course; while Rourke was certainly impressive in Sin City, we're still worried that he's going to ham it up a little too much; the scenes shown here, while not too over the top, don't exactly put that fear to bed either. And on a smaller note, we're not really a fan of the recent trailer technique of putting a clip of crazy mayhem after the rest of the trailer has ended. yes, it can be an effective little visceral hook to end on, but as cool as the scene in this trailer is, it still feels like a bit of a cheesy editing ploy. We're guessing nobody share this feeling, though, so you can probably ignore it as just curmudgeonly grumbling.

Grades: Those little minuses are just personal preference; in terms of effectiveness and composition, we have to give this trailer a solid A. Now, if only someone would release a trailer for Jonah Hex already. We're starting to get a little worried about that one.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Breaking News: Roy Disney dead at 79

According to, Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney and the last remaining link to Walt's legacy, has died after a long fight with cancer. He was 79.

The son of Roy O. Disney, who co-founded the Walt Disney Company in 1923 with brother Walt, Roy Disney worked for the studio for 56 years. In recent years he had been serving as a consultant after stepping down as the head of the Animation Department in 2003. During his tenure as director of Disney's famed animation arm, Roy spearheaded a return to classic animation and storytelling techniques, which culminated in a string of box office and critic hits including The Lion King, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid.

Roy left Disney after disputes over the direction the company was taking and though current animation honcho John Lasseter is today's most acclaimed creator as a result of his successes with Pixar, there's no question that Roy's death leaves a void that will be impossible to fill. Beyond his storytelling skills, which earned him two Oscar nominations, Roy's presence was a tangible reminder at all times of the company's storied past. In that role he often served as a guardian of the standards that his father and uncle set for the company, stepping in when necessary to right the ship.

It's a sad day indeed for Disney fans.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

J. Michael Straczynski's Thor in Review

The final issue of J. Michael Straczynski's acclaimed run on Thor has come to an end with the publication of Giant Size Thor Finale #1, so it seemed like a good time to take a look back at what JMS managed to accomplish and, of course, what he failed to accomplish with this run.

In many ways the Giant Size Thor Finale perfectly embodies all the things that frustrated me about this run. Firstly. it's published as an oversized special rather than a regular issue for no apparent reason other than to tack an extra dollar onto the price point. Not only do the events in this issue flow directly from all the previous issues, it's not a finale at all, as it is open-ended and leads right into Thor #604, the first issue by new (temporary) writer Keiron Gillen. Plus, the story is the same length as every other issue of Thor, with the "Giant-Size" aspect simply being more reprints.

This is an all-too familiar scenario for Thor readers since JMS took over back in the summer of 2007. That first issue of Thor, cover dated September but actually released in July, was a full two and a half years ago, which by normal publishing standards would mean that JMS should be completing a 30-issue run if the indica of the comic, which claims to be monthly, weren't a bald-faced fib. Instead, JMS managed only 17 issues during that time period, meaning the rest of the Thor publishing slack was picked up by a series of fill-ins, one-shots, reprints and specials, some of which, it should be noted, were actually better than the main product (thanks to the presence of Matt Fraction on many of them).

Giant Size Thor Finale is also symptomatic of JMS's modern (that is, slow) writing style, as it doesn't tie up his run so much as extend it yet again, continuing the pattern of dramatic deferral that JMS has perfected. About the only thing that is resolved, if you want to call it that, is the long-running, ongoing subplot of Oklahoma beef slab Bill and his erstwhile Asgardian lover Kelda. This ends with Bill dying to protect Balder and Kelda rushing off to confront Dr. Doom, who has teamed up with Loki to capture and dissect Asgardians in order to study their immortality. In the first few pages of Gillen's Thor #604, she shows up and Doom promptly rips her heart out. So after two plus years of this subplot, the point of it turned out to be... what exactly? I'm wondering just what these characters were intended to bring to the table, because if it was just this sequence, that's a ton of wasted pages to set up something that could have been accomplished without either of them existing in the first place.

If all this sounds overly harsh, it's because the real frustration with JMS's Thor is that parts of it were really good -- good enough to make the weaknesses especially glaring and annoying. Mostly, of course it's the pacing that was an issue, as even if these comics had come out on time there's no real reason it should take 17 meandering issues to get to this point. For those keeping track, the first arc of six issues brought the Asgardians back from their seeming death; the second arc, which was the high point of the series, gave us a glimpse at Loki's origin and his plot to have Thor exiled; and the third arc, still in progress, has the Asgardians moving to Latveria where they run into Doom.

Along the way we've had an inordinate amount of monologuing, especially between Thor and his alter-ego Don Blake; an extended series of vignettes in Oklahoma apparently designed to show the contrast between Asgardians and normal humans (something they didn't do particularly effectively or compellingly); this long-ass subplot with Bill and Kelda, which went nowhere; Loki as a woman for a year or more (why, again?); and basically one single issue with any action in it (the battle between Thor and Bor). And what does JMS has to show for all this? One compelling story (Loki's, trying together the two-part flashback origin with the death of Bor) and the much-needed reduction of Thor's powers to manageable levels by removing the Odin-force and re-introducing Don Blake to the mix, both of which are good moves in terms of making Thor a viable character who can actually interact with the Marvel Universe without overpowering it.

Was JMS's run on Thor bad? No, not by any means. But was it as good as some critics and fans (like the slurpers at would have you believe? Hell no. In the end his run was a solid if plodding reintroduction of Thor to the land of the living and in the process he did a lot of important infrastructure work on the character. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of actually telling interesting stories. Let's hope those who follow him on the book can take this two and a half year setup and actually -- finally -- do something with it.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hanukkah Special: The Top Ten Jewish Comic Characters

This year, Hanukkah officially started Friday night at sunset, so we thought this would be a perfect time to celebrate the many contributions Jewish creators have made to the comic book medium. Indeed, it's no exaggeration to say that if it weren't for the many Jewish creators who worked in comics during the first years of the medium's existence, comic books as we know them wouldn't exist at all. In particular, the superhero genre was dominated by and almost entirely created by Jewish comic pioneers. It's true that some of this was cultural impact from other mediums like pulp magazines and radio broadcasts of the day, but it's also true that Superman, created by the Jewish writer and artist team of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, jumpstarted both the comic industry in general and superhero comics specifically.

And Siegel and Schuster were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Jewish creators in the Golden Age. Undisputed masters like Will Eisner, Joe Simon, Juile Schwartz, Batman creator Bob Kane (okay, his master title is in some dispute) and the king of comics, Jack Kirby (real name: Jacob Kurtzberg) were just a few of the Jewish giants that created the superhero genre and powered the industry for decades. Not to mention the most famous comic creator of all, Stan "the Man" Lee, who was born Stanley Lieber and decided to work under a pen name, not to anglicize it but rather to save his real name for a planned shift to more prestigious literature.

So without further ado, let's wish all of our Jewish friends a Happy Hanukkah and celebrate together with his list of some of the great Jewish characters that have appeared in the comics that have made all of our lives more enjoyable over the past 75 years.

10. Bernie Rosenthal

Having grown up in 30's Brooklyn and fought his whole life against Nazi tyranny, it makes sense that Captain America would make some Jewish friends along the way. So when writers introduced new love interest Bernie Rosenthal (along with Cap's childhood best pal Arnie Roth) back in the 80's, it was a case of "that's so obvious, why didn't they do it before?" While a later change in writers ended up causing Bernie's departure from Cap's life, for a generation of readers, Bernie Rosenthal remains the bets choice for Mrs. Captain America. Are you listening, Marvel?

9. Colossal Boy

One of the most prominent members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Colossal Boy was, like many of the other members of the 30th century team, given a seemingly outlandish, futuristic name: Gim Allon. Writer Paul Levitz, however, recognized Allon as an actualy Jewish surname and crafted a storyline where Allon and his new, alien wife have to deal with the realities of inter-faith (and in this case inter-species) marriage thanks in part to his Jewish heritage.

8. Songbird

Songbird, the heart and soul (and sometimes the leader) of the hero team Thunderbolts, began her existence as a pro wrestler and villainess named Screaming Mimi. Thanks to Kurt Busiek, though, she got a new lease on life as Songbird. While her Jewish background hasn't been explored (or even explicitly mentioned in the comics themselves) it has been hinted at by creators in interview2s as well as subtly referenced through her multiple Jewish surnames: her real name is Melissa Gold, while her wrestling alias was Mimi Schwartz.

7. Two-Gun Kid

Speaking of characters who are identified as Jewish entirely through their surnames (which seems to be a bit of a theme here, and for fairly good reason; for many years comic publishers were hesitant to identify characters as belonging to any specific ethnic group for fear that this would alienate readers from other groups and prevent them from being a character everyone could identify with), here's the Two-Gun Kid. Long time readers of Marvel will probably be scratching their head, since Two-Gun's name has for decades been Matt Hawk. Recently, however, the powers that be gave Matt a bit of an ethnic retcon, renaming him Matt Liebowicz, with Hawk apparently a nom de guerre. I'm not exactly sure why Marvel decided to retroactively make the Two-Gun kid Jewish, but then again, the western gunfighter was also a time-traveling member of the Avengers for a brief time. So, why not.

6. Izzy Cohen

While most characters were created to be as generic as possible, however, Stan Lee took the exact opposite approach when he created Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandoes, specifically including as many minorities as he could in the cast to make it as diverse as possible. Thus fans were treated to Irish-Americans (Dum Dum Dugon), Italian-Americans (Dino Manelli), African-Americans (Gabe Jones) and one of the earliest and most prominent Jewish-AMerican characters in comics, Izzy Cohen, a hard-nosed mechanic straight out of Brooklyn. Izzy served as a member in good standing for the entire run on Sgt. Fury, but unlike many of his teammates didn't continue a military career (of SHIELD career) after the war but instead opened his own garage and raised a large family.

5. Arthur

Right from the get-go, flabby sidekick Arthur was one of the highlights of the superhero spoof Tick, lending a touch of normalcy to the otherwise outlandish proceedings (if you can call a grown man in a moth costume "normal"). As it happens, he's also Jewish, as we discovered when he bravely tried to explain Hanukkah to Tick back in 1997. We have a feeling that went about as well as explaining anything to Tick goes.

4. Nite Owl

One of the most influential comics of all time is, of course, Watchmen, and the moral center of that book (if such a thing can be said to exist at all) is upstanding superhero Nite Owl. When he's not wearing his owl suit, though, he's the much more unassuming Dan Dreiberg; with only twelve all too short issues to work with, creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons didn't get into Dan's ethnic heritage very much, but then again, it's pretty secondary to saving (or not saving) the world, so we don't blame them.

3. Magneto

Magneto is probably the only Jewish character on the list whose ethnicity is well known outside of comic book circles. That's because Magneto's origin, which includes an internment in a concentration camp, was featured prominently in the first X-Men film. In the comics, this side of Magneto was introduced as an explanation for his mutant-centric behavior, as it was meant to be a case of "never again". In the movies, though, he comes off as little better than a vengeful lunatic who mis-attributes his suffering to humans in general rather than the Nazi regime; this is especially noticeable in the third film where he spurns Mystique upon the loss of her powers. This can be blamed more on brett Ratner than on the character of Magneto, though; issues like X-Men #199, where Magneto and Kitty Pryde attend a Holocaust survivor reunion in hopes of tracking down missing relatives, are among some of the most interesting and in-depth discussions of Magneto's character done to date.

2. Kitty Pryde

Speaking of Kitty Pryde, here she is at number two on our list. While Magneto may be th emost prominent Jewish character to the general public, Kitty Pryde is undoubtedly the most prominent Jewish character within the comics community. Her heritage and faith have been a central part of the character since her inception, with the Ultimate version even wearing a large Star of David pendant as part of her standard uniform. She's also, by the way, one of the most popular and prominent female superheroes in all of comics. Normally she would place number one on the list, but that spot we had to reserve for a certain ever-lovin' blue-eyed hero known as...

1. Thing

It was a close decision between Kitty Pryde and Thing for number one on our list, but we ended up going with the original clobberer himself. Ben Grimm's Jewish background is technically a recent addition to Marvel continuity, but in a way it's been there since the start. According to many sources, when Stan and Jack originally created the team, Jack began patterning Thing's behavior and background after his own. Thing's outwardly gruff demeanor and his rough-and-tumble past, including run-ins with his former partners in the Yancy street Gang, were based on Jack's own personality and childhood. Extrapolating off of this, then, a few years ago Fantastic Four writer Karl Kesel decided to make the connection to Jack a little more explicit by writing a story where Ben comes in contact with his old rabbi, leading to a discussion of his faith. It's an interesting tale and more than enough reason to put Thing, one of the great comics characters of all time, at the top of our list.

Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

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