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.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Movie Trailers: The A-Team vs. The Losers

They're the A-Team, you know they're soldiers of fortune. They're the A-Team, helping people in need. You can pretend that you're Hannibal, Murdock or Face. Or Maybe B. A. Baracus; you know each one is an ace. Yes, folks, it's the A-Team, those paragons of early-80's action cheese who have inexplicably risen to cult status thanks to legions of pre-teen boys who have now managed to grow to adulthood without outgrowing schlock. Don't get me wrong, if you're a fan of A-Team, I understand where you're coming from and even better, I have good news for you: there's a big budget film version coming out this year and I've got the trailer right here to prove it.

But wait! There's more! I know what you're thinking: how could there possibly be more when we already have an A-Team trailer?! But yes, we also have here the new trailer for The Losers. Now, everyone knows that the A-Team is a crack squad of former government operatives who are now on the other side of the law, taking on missions nobody else will while the government tries to put them away for good. But The Losers have their own unique story: a crack squad of former government operative who are now on the other side of the law, these fighting men take on missions nobody else will while the government tries to put them away for good. Only, their main motive is revenge, not altruism. See the difference?

The Losers, of course, is based on the Vertigo Comics title of the same name, which unfortunately has nothing whatsoever to do with the 70's DC war comic that they stole the name from. That was a huge disappointment to me since I am essentially the only living person who purposely put together a full run of Our Fighting Forces featuring The Losers, but for most comics fans they couldn't care less because the Vertigo version was both popular and critically acclaimed. So while I am weeping at the absence of Una from this project and pining away for Capt. Storm's wooden leg, the rest of comicdom is frothing at a chance to see The Losers come to life on the big screen.

So which trailer wins? Will the epic improbability of Liam Neeson as Hannibal manage to outweigh the spectacle of Jeffrey Dean Morgan (i.e. The Comedian from Watchmen) returning for more DC Comics action? Let's find out... NOW!

<a href="" target="_new" title="'The Losers' Exclusive Look">Video: 'The Losers' Exclusive Look</a>

Okay, take a minute to towel off.

So what do we think? Well, let's star with the A-Team preview first. As trailers go, this one is pretty great. It manages to capture the essence of the original show, nicely introducing and teasing all the classic elements (even the van!) without being too obtuse for younger viewers to follow. Of course, A-Team isn't exactly brain surgery, so the formula is pretty simple, but for my money they nailed it here. I have a weird feeling the film itself is probably going to suck (though not nearly as much as, say, G. I. Joe or the exponentially suckier Transformers), but the trailer is pretty great. And for all those internet people complaining that the tank sequence at the end of the trailer is cheesy: it's the A-Team. That kind of nonsense is exactly what the show was about, love it or hate it. So quitcher bellyaching.

The Losers, on the other hand, is catering to a much smaller built-in audience and I think has to exhibit broader appeal, because most viewers aren't going to be as familiar with the comic as they are with A-Team. With that in mind, the trailer relies less on familiarity with the characters and more on familiarity with the editing style of the clip: with its freeze frames, one-liners and use of graphics, the trailer resembles nothing so much as a cross between Ocean's 13 and Reservoir Dogs. For a certain segment of the audience, of course, that would be a heady mix indeed. I think they went a little too strong on the comedy aspect in the trailer -- the numerous clips of Chris Evans's wisecracking commando began to resemble Ryan Reynolds's excrutiating turn as Hannibal King in Blade III -- but overall I think they've done a pretty good job of making this look like a fun time at the movies. And the presence of current it-girl Zoe Saldana in the cast doesn't hurt either.

My Grades: The A-Team trailer gets, appropriately enough, an A- in terms of catering to its fan base, while it still gets a respectable B for the general public. The Losers also clocks in with a B for me. Though both films are dancing right on the edge of cheesiness, I suspect that A-Team will go headlong over that edge while The Losers might manage to toe the line a little better. Time will tell, but these are both pretty effective trailers overall.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Marvel Unveils Heroic Age

Marvel has officially confirmed the rumors and speculation surrounding the end of their Avengers franchise, announcing in today's USA Today that Avengers will in fact be relaunching this fall as the cornerstone of their new Heroic Age event. As I theorized earlier this week, they also confirmed that the Heroic Age signals a new, more hopeful direction for the company and its characters, with the emphasis being on old fashioned superheroics: good guys will be good guys again and bad guys will be bad guys. One figure whose position as good guy or bad guy depends on your point of view, however, will remain central to the direction of Avengers: Brian Michael Bendis.

"The 'brand new day' of the Heroic Age presents a tonal shift to optimism, a world filled with hope but quite hellish villains," Bendis, who as most of you know is a frequent target of abuse around these parts, told USA Today. "The heroes realize it's a blue-sky world worth protecting."

"This was always the whole point — the reunion, the Avengers getting back together, because this is what the world needs right now," Bendis added. "Now we get to the good stuff."

Whether or not Bendis can actually deliver good stuff, of course, depends on your point of view; personally, I think he's fine doing solo books where he can present character studies and the like but has fallen flat on his face in team books like New Avengers. However, considering that his titles have consistently been Marvel's top selling books over the past seven years, it's not a huge surprise to learn that he will in fact be remaining on Avengers when it relaunches later this year (incidentally, it is launching with a new #1 rather than picking up where the old series left off, though another renumbering when it hits 600 seems inevitable).

But even those in the Avengers and comics communities who are skeptical about Bendis's take on the team have to be pleased with the overall change in direction for Marvel (okay, they don't have to be -- someone has been buying this dark stuff, after all -- but many older fans who have been turned off by the post-Civil War era are certainly rejoicing).

"Heroes will be heroes again," Marvel EIC Joe Quesada said. "They've gone through hell and they're back to being good guys — a throwback to the early days of the Marvel Universe, with more of a swashbuckling feel."

Interestingly, USA Today almost totally glossed over the connection to the upcoming Avengers movie, which may or may not be a major reason for this tonal shift at Marvel. Instead, they chose to focus on the (much less likely, to my mind) possibility that Disney dictated this change so that the characters would be more family friendly now that they are buying Marvel. Quesada and Bendis quite rightly laughed off that suggestion, which I'm sure makes sense to the general populace but seems a bit forced for comics fans.

Creating a product that is synergistic with the expected blockbuster Avengers movie, on the other hand, could be one possible factor for this change though, as Bendis says, this seems to have been the idea all along. When Disassembled and Civil War took place, the main aims stated by Marvel at the time were to position the Avengers at the center of the Marvel Universe and to shake up the status quo, as they felt heroes were too chummy and comfortable with each other as opposed to the early days of Marvel where they were often suspicious of or even at odds with other heroes. Now that the light at the end of the tunnel is finally shining, it can be said that they have achieved both of these aims spectacularly, though, of course, the means they did it with resulted in nearly a full decade of stories I would rather punch myself in the face than read again.

With Avengers #1 now a reality, though, and the dark age of Marvel seemingly coming to a blessed end, speculation can turn to lighter, fan friendly fare such as: what will the roster of the Avengers be? Some people are under the impression that this promo art for the Heroic Age (which, I might add, looks kind of slapped together -- what's with that cheesetastic logo?) represents the Avengers lineup, but that's not really clear. Nine members is an awful lot (though it's barely one one-billionth of your typical X-Men roster) and a couple of these seem a bit out of left field (Gorilla Man and Thing?), though in general it would be an intriguing line-up.

Of more immediate importance to hardcore Avengers fans is the return of Clint Barton as Hawkeye, which I think will elicit a giant "Hell Yes!" from all right thinking Americans. And then there's the question of just which Captain America that is; the costume seems to be Bucky, though as some have pointed out, in this picture Cap has blue eyes rather than brown, which normally would indicate Steve Rogers. Plus, the USA Today article says that this will be reuniting a "reborn" Cap with Iron Man and Thor, neither part of which would be true if it's Bucky beneath the mask. Personally, as much as I love Steve Rogers, I wouldn't mind Bucky in the role either, so it's not a big deal for me though I'm sure it will be the cause of a blogosphere meltdown in some corners of the internet.

Whoever ends up being on the team (conspicuous by his absence, for instance, is current Mighty Avengers leader Hank Pym), though, one thing is certain: the Heroic Age appears to be answering the prayers of a lot of disenchanted and disenfranchised Marvel (and comics) fans. It Marvel can recapture that audience while still retaining the fan base Bendis has cultivated -- something that can be done simply by telling good stories -- then this may truly be one event worthy of the name.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Tales From the Vault: MASTER OF KUNG-FU #16

Hey, kids, welcome back to another edition of Tales Form the Vault, where we dig into our vast treasure trove of comics and read a random issue. This week's offering is none other than Special Marvel Edition #16, which features The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu. What's not mentioned in this extended title is that the rest of Shang-Chi is also present for the story, so don't worry, this isn't a Che Guevara incident.

But enough dilly dally. Let's get right to the comic!

Details: This issue is dated February of 1974 and has Steve Englehart as writer and lists Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom as artist and co-artist. Wow, Milgrom was messing up comics as far back as 1973? There's also a little credit box saying "Featuring characters created by Sax Rohmer". This is, of course, Fu Manchu, whose trademark mustache I recently attempted to wear with mixed success. A little wiki tells me that Marvel apparently had bought the rights to Fu Manchu for comic purposes, but lost those rights in the 80's, and thus Shang-Chi's father is only shown in shadows from that point and never referred to by name. Huh. I wonder why they bought the rights in the first place?

By the way, the story boasts the terrifically goofy title "Midnight Brings Dark Death!" Of course it does. Plus, the cover blurb describes Midnight as a "Man-Menace." WTF guys, are you even trying?

Synopsis: The issue starts with Shang-Chi standing in Central Park, where he's decided to pitch camp after fleeing from his father in #15. Some New York tough guys decide to kick his butt just because, and instead he wastes them. He apparently has hyper-developed senses, because in one caption it says "The bald one's sweat odor suddenly increases sharply". Real time sweat detection. Hmm. As far as super powers go, that's about the worst I've ever heard of.

A group of bystanders is watching, and when Shang-Chi finishes beating the two dudes, the people watching all decide to also attack him for no apparent reason. See, this is why Ed Koch put together that "I Love NY" ad campaign. Shang-Chi again beats them all down. Then, suddenly, Midnight appears, gives a very brief speech, and vanishes.

This apparently happens as a means to segue into a Midnight origin story, and here's what we learn: in 1973, Starlin couldn't draw children very well. Midnight was just such a badly drawn boy after his parents were killed and his face was maimed in an attack on one of Fu Manchu's villages. Fu (not to be confused with Shaq Fu) took him in so that he could nurse his hate and become a killing weapon, and that's where he met Shang-Chi and they became friends. Is it just me, or does that happen an awful lot? Now I know where I've seen Midnight before: he's Snake Eyes.

Anyway. Now, in the present, Midnight has been sent to kill Shang-Chi because Shang-Chi has left Fu's service, which Fu chalks up to the influence of Shang's "American mother". Midnight doesn't want to kill Shang-Chi, but he is loyal, so agrees to.

Shang-Chi doesn't know any of this just yet, because he's too busy being caught in the middle of culture shock. This involves a belligerent cop who mistakes Shang-Chi for a prank playing hippie, and somehow this requires the cop to pull his gun. This part feels just a weeeee bit contrived, I have to say. In fact, every New Yorker in the issue so far has been a complete tool who has way overreacted and attacked Shang-Chi for no reason other than he's from out of town. In other words, just like actual New Yorkers. Ba-da-bing! Thank you, I'll be here all week.

Just then! Midnight heaves a scroll at Shang-Chi, who clocks the cop and reads it. It's a challenge. The two decide to meet up and start a fight to the death, and seriously, Midnight is pretty cool looking. Sure enough, they fight for a couple pages and start to argue about philosophy when suddenly the cops show up again, saying that "we're not as inept as you think!" Which is an easy thing to say but seems very, very difficult for them to actually prove.

Seems Shang-Chi is wanted for murder from issue #15 and him decking that cop kind of gave away his position. Of course, both Shang-Chi and Midnight immediately vanish even though the cop is looking right at them, with a spotlight on them and a gun drawn, so there goes that whole "we're not inept" argument. During this section the cop refers to midnight as "Boston Blackie" I'm not familiar with this reference, but another quick check of wiki informs me that he was a detective in some books in the teens and twenties and some films in the 40's. Huh. Still in the realm of popular culture in the 70's? I smells me some Roy Thomas.

Anyhow, Midnight and Shang-Chi meet up again and continue their fight and Midnight is pretty much taking it to him hard core. Shang-Chi then realizes that he has been dogging it because he doesn't want to kill his friend, but he further realizes it is inevitable, so he just up and chucks Midnight off a crane. Midnight falls and his cape gets caught on the crane's hook and his neck breaks. Hmm. Seems like there was a lot of that going around in Marvel at that time.


Extras: Interesting that they pretty much introduce an arch-enemy for Shang-Chi in this issue, give him an awesome name and costume and compelling back story and then kill him off int he same issue. I'm not sure if that's a terrible idea or a bit of genius. Considering the creative team, I'm leaning towards the former.

And from Bullpen Bulletins we can see that this issue came out at the same time as one of the issues I've already reviewed on here, Power Man #17, so the rest of the Bulletins is the same as that one, i.e. they introduce the Marvel Value Stamp and all of collectordom goes into a silent frothing rage. Yo, someone out there owes me an un-wrecked copy of Incredible Hulk #181. Seriously. Special Marvel Edition #16 and Power Man #17 also both came out the same month as the slightly better known Amazing Spider-man #129. One out of three ain't bad.

My Grades: Midnight gets an A+. The story itself gets a B+, only taking a hit because of the cartoonishly violent actions of all New Yorkers. I know they're trying to play up the cultural differences, but really. Final verdict: somewhat special, but not special enough to warrant the word "Special" in the title of the series. This is more like a Regular Marvel Edition.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New Comic Cavalcade: Siege #1 and More

Welcome back to another edition of New Comic Cavalcade, where we bring to you the most timely reviews around so that you can best decide what to spend -- or not spend -- your hard earned comics dollar on. Up for consideration this week: Siege #1, Weird Western Tales #71 and, as promised, Warlord #10. Let's get right down to it.

Siege #1
Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Copiel

Siege is an interesting case study in the drawbacks of writing within a shared universe. Of course, you might say the same about everything Bendis has written, but in the case the problems, such as they are, with Siege stem mostly from what is not in the story rather than what is in the story. So let's start first with what Siege does do: surprisingly enough (for me, anyway), it present a fairly entertaining preface to what promises to be an important story, as Marvel has promised this will be the endgame for everything that has been going on at the company for the past seven years. We get to see Norman Osborn marshal forces, with Loki's help, and we go behind the scenes with the supervillains to see what they are thinking as they prepare to attack Asgard. Typically for this current Marvel era, significantly less time is spent with any of the heroes, meaning that even when the battle is finally joined, we don't actually get to see much of the fight between Thor and Osborn's minions.

This is a drawback, as such a battle should be the meat of an action story but instead is depicted in long distance, grainy shots of tiny figures with an accompanying voiceover telling us Thor is down, rather than actually showing it happen. Which makes sense because, as I mentioned, what doesn't happen in the story is the main issue. We don't get any sense of what the motivation is for Osborn or what he stands to gain from this attack. More importantly, we don't get any explanation of a) why Asgard is back in Oklahoma (as opposed to Latveria, where it is still parked in the pages of Thor) or b) how Tony Stark ended up under Don Blake's care in Oklahoma, and with Maria Hill along to boot (again, nothing remotely suggesting this is happening in the pages of Blake's own title, Thor). I assume that this information is given somewhere, perhaps in Iron Man, perhaps in the Siege prologue one-shot. Unfortunately, the writers and editors also assume that you know this stuff as well, even though there's every possibility that you either don't read those titles or, in fact, that it simply hasn't yet been published (which not only applies to the end of the current Thor story, but also to the Steve Rogers appearance at the end of the issue, which... doesn't seem to make any sense based on when we last saw him). There has been a lot of talk recently about how scheduling delays have impacted the Marvel Universe, but allowing these problems to undermine what should be the culmination of a decade's work seems egregious.

As a stand alone tale, then, Siege #1 isn't half bad. But read in the context of the Marvel Universe, the more you try to figure it out, the more confusing it gets. And since the story only matters within that context, the failure to provide a proper setting to the reader is a major failing.

My Grades: It should be a solid B or B+. But editorial confusion demotes it to a C+. I will probably buy the next issue, if only for the fact that by the time it comes out, all the comics that were supposed to set the stage for it may also have been issued. One can hope.

Weird Western Tales #71
Dan DiDio and Renato Arlem

In case you've missed the last couple years of DC comics, they have a big event right now called Blackest Night, which is basically their version of Marvel Zombies, only it's taking place in continuity. As part of the promotion for the event, someone at DC had the absolutely brilliant idea to resurrect not just characters, but canceled titles from DC's past, so along with new final issues of classic comics like Starman and Suicide Squad, we also are given the unlikely treat of a new issue of Weird Western Tales for the first time since 1980.

The down side to this otehrwise awesome promotion is that these comics are part of Blackest Night. Which means in this case that we get zombie versions of the western heroes who appeared in the anthology's long history, including Scalphunter, Firehair and, of course, Jonah Hex. The story isn't too bad; DC EIC Dan DiDio does a decent job of tying this one-shot into both Blackest Night and recent events within Jonah Hex (in this case by bringing in Hex arch-villain Quentin Turnbull and his descendants as major characters). Still, though the comic is a fun call-back for long-time fans like me, it is necessary reading for pretty much nobody. I can't see Green Lantern fans bothering to buy this (or enjoying it much if they did), while Jonah Hex fans can also safely skip it without missing much. There's nothing wrong with the comic, mind you, but when the logo is the biggest selling point, chances are it's a good thing this is just a one-shot.

My Grades: A++++++ for the idea, C+ for the actual comic.

Warlord #10
Mike Grell and Chad Hardin

And, of course, it's Warlord. You may recall that in an earlier edition of New Comic Cavalcade I vowed to review every issue of Warlord until sales improved. Well, as far as I know, Mike Grell and I are still the only people reading it, so as promised, I'm bringing you the straight scoop on Warlord #10.

Actually, this issue is a slight improvement, all things considered. On the down side, Grell, who had stepped in to pencil a couple issues, is back doing just the covers and writing. But Chad Hardin, who returns to the book as artist, turns in with this issue his best effort to date. I'm not sure what it is -- probably the fact he is inking himself in a sketchier style, but I'm too lazy to dig out the back issues to check -- but this issue looks really good. I like his style in this issue much more than his previous efforts.

Unfortunately, the story struggles with the same problems it has had all along, namely too much standing around talking about Warlord by the supporting cast and not enough actual Warlord actually doing things. This time it's in the form of some on-camera interviews about Travis Morgan, which for people like myself who are long times fans is a little too close to Grell's six issue mini-series in the mid-90's, which was entirely about people discussing Warlord's legacy while he was off panel.

This kind of deconstruction is great if you're a long time Warlord fanatic, but chances are, again, that Grell and I are the only two people who find this sort of study interesting, and even I am getting a little tired of it after almost a year. Let's just have some balls out fantasy action and let this stuff be the subtext instead of the main text, okay? Since half this issue revolved around the newest incarnation of Deimos, though -- a character only long, long time Warlord fans care at all about -- things don't really look promising.

My Grades: Considering Grell wasn't drawing it, the art was better than expected, but the story is still stuck in neutral. B-.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Breaking News: Marvel Cancels New Avengers

Since Marvel turned Avengers over to Brian Michael Bendis back in 2004, his darker re-invention of the franchise, New Avengers (which also was helped out, of course, by the presence of both Spider-man and Wolverine, the company's most popular characters), has been the industry's top selling title, staying in the top ten year after year while spawning a number of spinoffs including Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers and Avengers: the Initiative. So what's Marvel's next plan for leveraging the Avengers name?


According to multiple reports (such as this one from IGN), Marvel has decided to end not just New Avengers, but all four Avengers titles, with the final issues of each comic coming at the end of the current Siege crossover event.

The question on many people's lips is, of course, why? And the answer seems to be that this was the plan all along (though it's pretty hard to tell with Marvel, who have made a habit of changing horses in mid stream and then papering over the decision). As EIC Joe Quesada notes in an essay that ran in the first issue of Siege, the current Marvel Universe as we know it is very different than the classic interpretation, a change in status quo that comes directly from the influence of Bendis and his Disassembled storyline. Now it seems (as I have been suggesting for awhile) that Captain America: Rebirth and Siege mark the end of a broad arc of plotlines that have rearranged the MU beginning most noticeably with Civil War and continuing through Secret Invasion.

Those stories, of course, resulted first in heroes turning on each other and developing a pseudo-police state to regulate superhuman activity; and then in that framework being co-opted by supervillains such as Norman Osborn in the wake of Secret Invasion. With that in mind, the return of Steve Rogers and the beginning of Siege (which itself returns Thor to the MU proper rather than the sideline he has been sitting on since his series debuted three years ago) suggest a natural endgame: that of the real heroes uniting once more to restore balance to the MU and regain their place as the nation's protectors rather than as self-destructive pariahs.

In other words, a return to the heroic status quo of the classic Marvel Universe. Marvel has strengthened this speculation by announcing The Heroic Age, an event that will follow Siege later this year and which has been teased with an image of the Big Three Avengers (Cap, Iron Man and Thor) standing together. This all suggests one thing: that the Big Three will be re-uniting and re-forming the Avengers.

And that, of course, would seem to be at odds with the underground, street level action that Bendis has been so successfully writing over the past half decade. The return of heroes would seem to mark a thematic end point for New Avengers, Dark Avengers (whose existence is intimately tied in with Siege to begin with) and Avengers: the Initiative, all of which exist mainly to deal with the ramifications of Civil War and the subsequent crossover events that followed.

In addition, though sales still remain strong on all Avengers-themed books, there has been a sense of over saturation recently, with not only four ongoing series but a number of tie ins and one shots as well. Canceling the titles, then, helps preserve the Avengers cache before it is burned out and allows Marvel to better promote and push what I think will be the inevitable climax for The Heroic Age: the relaunching of the original Avengers title with the Big Three at the center.

This also will come in time for the series to tie in nicely with the 2012 Avengers movie. That is just an added benefit, however; for long time Avengers fans like myself, the idea that we may finally be seeing the end of the Bendisvengers and the return of the "real" team, written (presumably) as protagonists we can identify with rather than a bunch of villains fighting each other, is a reason to rejoice. It's enough for me even to say that should this take place, the Bendis era can be seen in retrospect as an interesting and successful experiment. The stated goal all along was to establish the Avengers as the center of the Marvel Universe; and though I haven't been a fan of the way they have gone about it, mainly because of my dislike of the resulting stories, it has to be said that they have succeeded beyond a shadow of a doubt in that aim.

Just being able to write the words "Bendis" and "in retrospect" together is worth a small cheer, of course, but there's no guarantee that Bendis will actually be leaving the title. Indeed, in some ways it seems hard to imagine given the sales success he has had. However, a clean break would seem to make sense from a story perspective; and for Bendis, having accomplished what he set out to, with a full and complete story arc behind him, it's possisble he himself may want to move on to other challenges. For those reasons, I think it's likely that Bendis will end up leaving the Avengers franchise when (or, technically, if) it reboots with The Heroic Age. Who will take over, of course, is yet to be announced (like many fans, I am praying for Ed Brubaker). But, that's okay.

For now, this news is announcement enough.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Seven Questions with FRED HEMBECK

We've had the good fortune here at The Vault to interview a number of comic creators and legends, but this week we're proud to introduce someone who may be among the most beloved creators in comics: Fred Hembeck. Hembeck, who has been providing smiles to comics fans for over three decades with his curlicue joints and lovingly inside jokes (some of which can be viewed on his website), took some time from his busy schedule to answer some our most pressing questions, such as what he thinks of the new Doctor Voodoo series. So without further ado, let's jump right into our Seven Questions with Fred Hembeck.

1. Over the course of your career you’ve worked for seemingly every publisher in the business. What do you have in the works now and is there any chance we’ll be seeing more stuff at Marvel or DC like the recent strip you did for Captain America #600?

Marvel has an 8 page "Petey" story in the can--in which the young Peter Parker meets his new babysitter, the teen-aged Sue Storm, as well as (unfortunately) her kid brother, Johnny--for an upcoming, unscheduled issue of "Web Of Spider-Man". I hope to do some more of these--only time will tell if they'll let me!! I have several other irons in the fire as well, but nothing definitive to report as of yet.

2. It’s my understanding that prior to developing your famous style, you attempted to break into comics as a more traditional artist. How did that transition come about and do you have any plans to ever create a “serious” title?

"No", to the latter portion of your question--I know what's good for me after all these years, and it ain't competing with the likes of the amazing artists drawing super-hero comics currently! Heck, I was having a hard enough time back in 1977 when my portfolio was rejected on several occasions. That prompted me to develop my cartoony style as a way to keep drawing and keep my spirits up as I retrenched and gave serious illoing a second go. But, much to my surprise, the cartoony stuff caught on so quickly, I never had a chance to go back, and I've never regretted how things turned out cuz, as a standard adventure story illustrator, I woulda had to work way, way hard just to make "average"--sometimes your limitations can actually be a blessing!!

3. Speaking of more traditional comics art, you once did a Brother Voodoo story for Marvel in classic superhero style, thanks to your well known obsession (or mock obsession?) with the character. Now that he’s become Doctor Voodoo, the new Sorcerer Supreme, what are your thoughts on the character? Can you take credit for this development? And can we expect to see you involved in the new series?

It'd certainly be fun to be involved with the new Doctor Voodoo series, but so far, that call hasn't come in. I'll admit to not knowing anything about it save for what I can garner from the web, as I no longer keep up with current Marvel or DC Comics, but I wish my ol' pal, Bro--I mean, Doc--only the best!!

4. Image recently published an omnibus collecting hundreds of pages of your work. How did that come about and can we expect to see collections of your Marvel and DC work any time in the future?

Long time inker and friend Al Gordon suggested the idea to me, and while I thought he was a bit balmy for it, he also ran it past his buddy Erik Larsen, who just happened to be Image's publisher at the time, and amazingly, he thought it was a good idea too!! So who was I to argue? It perculated as simply a notion for over a year, then took nearly that long to compile, but Al has my everlasting thanks for putting the whole thing in motion!! As for Marvel and DC collections, nothing's planned, but I certainly wouldn't be adverse!!

5. It’s been clear from your work that right from the start you have always been a big fan of comics and superheroes, so it makes sense that you have a lot of interaction with the fan community, though your website, blog, facebook page and even ebay auctions and message boards. How has the internet changed the fan experience from your perspective as both a fan and as a creator?

It makes everything instantaneously intimate--and this from someone who, due to poor typing skills, stays away from message boards and instant messaging. When I first began doing my strip for The Buyer's Guide back in the late seventies, I wrote my home address at the bottom of each page, and was delighted with the amount of feedback that arrived through the mail. However, when I returned the Comic's Buyer's Guide in the mid-nineties, I often felt as if I was simply talking to myself, as I ditched the home address gambit. But now, online, I find folks WERE reading that stuff, and it's a great place to reconnect with fans who followed my work several decades back! Simply put, the response I've received over the last few years on the internet has been highly gratifying!!

6. You’ve had a chance to work with or riff on just about every publisher or character over your career, both in short strips and in longer form comics such as Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe. Are there any dream projects that you have yet to work on, or characters or series that you would like to play with?

Not really--though it might be cool to have a full blown Weisinger-era Superman family homage story of mine actually published inside a bona-fide DC Comic--THAT'D be fun!!

7. Lastly, what’s one specific storytelling technique you use that you could share with new creators to help them hone their craft?

Hmm--well, I always write WAY too much dialog, so I wouldn't advise anyone to follow me THERE. And the knee-squiggles are mine (I stole 'em from Mort Walker and Hank Ketcham fair and square)--HANDS OFF! I suppose my best advice would be to make sure that one panel flows logically into the next--don't get so hung up on drawing pretty pictures that you forget this salient fact!! And have fun--it'll show in the final product!!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Decade in Review: Conquering Hollywood

Welcome to the latest in our occasional series looking back at the themes, events and personalities that shaped the last decade in comics. Last time we discussed the rise of the event book as the primary mover within the mainstream comic book (and specifically superhero) industry. Today we take a look at a development that has far larger cultural and fiscal ramifications for comics: the conquering of Hollywood.

Movies based on comics books are nothing new, of course; starting in the late 70's, the Superman films remained popular for over a decade. And just when that franchise was wrapping up, the Batman films kicked off. During the 90's, as the Batman line devolved into kitsch, films began mining comics for lesser known properties such as Men in Black. But while comic films were a viable part of the Hollywood strategy, they were just one minor aspect of the industry, barely more than a cultural footnote. Something was missing.

That something, as it turned out, was Marvel. Just as they revolutionized the comic industry in the early 1960's, Marvel helped lead an overhaul not just of the comic adaptation ghetto but of the movie industry in general and pop culture as a whole. Beginning with 2000's X-Men and 2002's Spider-Man, Marvel properties pushed the boundaries of what was possible with comic movies (teams, for instance, rather than just solo heroes) while also redefining the box office; the $403 million brought in by Spider-man was at the time the fifth highest gross in movie history.

Where there's that kind of money, of course, imitators will follow. And while not every comic book movie has been a critical or commercial success (see: Catwoman, Elektra, et al), studios have turned more and more to comics for both big budget superhero franchises as well as smaller budget action adaptations (Wanted, for example).

As the appeal of comic films has broadened, so too has the influence of comic fans increased. Nowhere is this better seen than with the ascension of the San Diego Comic Con, which over the past decade has evolved form a mid-sized gathering of comic fans into the premiere movie event of the year, with studios falling over each other to present bigger and splashier previews of their upcoming sci-fi films and TV shows. If osmehting is a hit at Comic Con, it's likely going to make money at the box office; and if it is a flop, then, lookout below. And with the advent of instant feedback social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, the buzz from Comic Con spreads across the globe instantaneously: two of the biggest hits of the decade, 2008's The Dark Knight and Iron Man, rode massive Comic Con buzz to box office history.

Which makes one aspect of the rise of comic movies somewhat difficult to understand: while the characters and films are more popular than ever, the comic books themselves are selling at an unprecedentedly low rate, with sales continuing to hemorrhage even as potential buyers flock to the megaplex for the latest blockbuster. For whatever reason, widespread popularity and cultural influence have not yet translated into a rise in sales, something that publishers will need to figure out sooner rather than later.

For the time, though, it now seems as though the value of comic books to the publishers lies not in the comics themselves, but rather in the potential marketing opportunities those comics create. Because of this, the popularity of comic book movies has had the strange side effect of actually devaluing the comics themselves and potentially handcuffing creators of properties in development (though this is not always the case; Marvel, for example, allowed Iron Man to be portrayed as a fascist wing-nut in the comics at the same time production on the Iron Man feature film was progressing).

But perhaps because of this dichotomy, publishers are being forced to take drastic measures to protect their new primary source of income, and again, it's Marvel leading the way. The creation of Marvel Studios was one of the biggest gambles in recent Hollywood memory, with Marvel borrowing some $500 million to produce their own films in-house, a move necessitated by the fact that under their old deals for the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises, they were receiving only a small flat fee and a tiny percentage of earnings, while the studios raked in the money off of their properties (and yes, this can be seen as ironic considering those characters in turn were created on a work for hire basis for Marvel by creators who weren't seeing a dime from Marvel in return). But with their comics sagging, Marvel had few other options, as they needed the revenue streams their characters were generating to stay in house.

In turn, of course, the popularity of Marvel's films convinced Disney that, again, the characters (and not the actual comic books) were now iconic and popular enough to warrant a buyout. It has been widely speculated that Disney's purchase of Marvel won't affect the publishing arm and why should it: after all, in the grand scheme of things, the comics are now little more than an afterthought, a petri dish for the next actionable ideas to come from. What Disney was getting was access to those ideas -- a huge backlog of characters, concepts and properties that, if the last decade is any indicator, may well provide Hollywood with the next massive pop culture hits and worldwide blockbusters. The next big test is coming up in 2012, when The Avengers is scheduled to hit theaters. And if that experiment -- bringing a comic-style shared universe onto the big screen for the first time in movie history -- turns out to be a success, then comic movies and Marvel may just manage to change the way people think of movies and what kinds of stories can be told in film.

And if that happens, then the amazing successes of the last decade will be little more than a prologue to the real show. We hope you like comic movies, because we have a feeling you'll be getting a lot more for a long time to come.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

January Zuda Reviews part 2

Welcome back to our look at this month's batch of competitors over at Zuda Comics. Previously, we reviewed the first five entries, which you can catch up on here. Today it's the last five. Who will win? And more importantly, will any of them be awesome? Let's find out... together.

Phantom Sword
Nick Edwards

Phantom Sword is a fairly fun little fantasy strip which, like fellow competitor Beyond the Borderlands, uses familiar cartoon and video game tropes to appeal to modern readers (specifically in the way the characters cast spells and use abilities by shouting them out with attending spell animation).

Where Beyond the Borderlands seems pretty straightforward, however, Phantom Sword is more of an offbeat humor strip and is bolstered by some pretty sharp art that is appealing in a Care Bears meet R. Crumb kind of way. There are a couple grammatical issues which are fairly blatant but which don't significantly detract from the story due to the fact that it's too whimsical to seem to care about those sorts of little details. It's not perfect -- the opening was a bit abrupt for me, even with only eight pages to work with -- but it's worth the read.

My Grades: I'm not sure I'll vote for this, but it wouldn't bother me if it won, nor would it surprise me. B.

Road Monster
Nicolás Raúl Sánchez Brondo and Diego Cortés

What would a Quentin Tarantino comic starring Danny Trejo look like? I don't know, but that's the question creators Brondo and Cortés seem intent on trying to answer with Road Monster, which combines horror and... horror... in an apparent attempt to capture fans of The Hills Have Eyes.

Look, I'm not going to bag on this too much. The art is pretty good, writing is fine and the production quality is sharp. I personally don't like horror and, as I have had to state more than once in my Zuda reviews, I'm also a little tired of the grim anti-hero protagonist, which in recent years has morphed into the "not a hero at all" protagonist. So the main guy doesn't want to help the kid begging him for assistance at the start of the story? Well, it proves he's a hardcore badass, but it also proves he's a giant douchebag. And I get enough douchebags in the real world without wanting to read about more in my spare time.

My Grades: If this is your sort of thing, you'll like it, which seems obvious but kinda isn't. So even though my personal interest in this can't be above a C-, I'll give it a B- for technical merit.

The Thunderchickens
William Dean Blankenship Jr. and Chad Boudreau

I like the name Thunderchickens and the accompanying thumbnail, because you pretty much instantly know exactly what this comic is about. In this kind of competition, that's an important edge for a comic which may have only couple seconds on the main page to entice people to click and read further.

If they do read further, they'll get a reasonably entertaining anthropomorphic superhero parody, though parody isn't quite the right word; it's more like a loving study of the superhero genre (or, at least, it seems set up to be that; eight pages is a little too short a window to get a full taste of things). The individual characters are well enough realized in the brief time we get to know them, and the superhero genre is well enough known among people who may be reading this that the conceit, while perhaps a little too inside baseball, probably will work anyway. They may want to think about coming up with a new logo, though, just to be safe; the current one seems just a little to close to Thunderbolts for the legal eagles to be comfortable should this win.

My Grades: A fun enough read and likely to appeal to a lot of comics fans. B.

War of the Fallen
Quinton J. Bedwell

There's been quite a bit of discussion at Zuda about the word balloons for this entry and, I think for good reason, because they were the first thing I noticed about the strip. Even at full screen size, the font chosen seemed a bit diffuse, as though it was intended to be viewed at double size and was therefore missing some pixels. This made the comic just a bit more difficult to read, but even that small annoyance is enough to turn off a lot of readers, especially considering that by today's standards, this comic has a whole lot of words in it. In the future, I'd suggest that the creator may want to try out a slightly different font or font size for his projects.

Those many words in those balloons also are just a bit stiff, as Bedwell seems to struggle a bit trying to work in necessary exposition in a natural fashion. As a result, the comic, which is competently drawn, feels a bit clunky and obvious in places. The ideas seem to be there, but a bit more polish may be necessary to get them into winning form.

My Grades: There's a lot of promise here, but unfortunately I don't think most of it is yet realized. C.

War of the Woods
Matthew Petz

As always, before reading the comics each month I take a look at the titles and thumbnails as part of my study to figure out what presentations work and don't work at Zuda. This one was, for me, the best; between the titles, which works both on its own and as a reference to War of the Worlds, was pithy without being annoying, and the artwork was appealing and interesting enough to make me want to see more. A good start.

Sure enough, the art inside is very nice, though perhaps just a little formal; and the title does, in fact, directly reference War of the Worlds, as the comic seems to be a retelling of those events (i.e. an alien invasion of Earth) through the viewpoint of intelligent animals. If I were still 13, I would love this. As it is, it still brings a little smile to my face. So how are these animals going to avert world conquest by aliens? I'm certainly curious to find out, but I know who they shouldn't ask for help: that guy from Road Monster. Because he will f**k you up.

My Grades: Yeah, kind of the opposite of Road Monster for me in every way -- I'll give it a B for technical execution even though for my personal tastes it's more like an A- and will likely earn my vote. First impressions are powerful things.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

January Zuda Reviews part 1

Another month, another new batch of comics over at Zuda. That, of course, is a good thing. Not so great, unfortunately, have been the last two competitions, which have featured a number of middling strips and few stand-out titles. Will that finally change with the coming of the new year? Well, let's take a look.

Beyond the Borderlands
Brian McLachlan

First up is Beyond the Borderlands by Brian McLachlan, which features the story of a guy with massive sideburns and his pal, a dude made out of wood, as they make their way through what appears to be an old Dungeons and Dragons module. Oh, wait, that was Keep on the Borderlands. My bad.

You can forgive me, I hope, for the mistake, though, considering this title reads very much like something a DM would put together, except with art. And that art is... actually, it's okay; the art is fairly simple and it won't blow your socks off, but it's not offensive either. It's like the Herb Trimpe of Zuda fantasy and by that metaphor, the writing is kind of like the Gary Friedrich of Zuda as well. It's, you know, okay.

Okay, though, isn't likely to win or grab a lot of votes.

My Grades: It gets a C+ overall, but I'll give the creator a B anyway because I do get the impression somehow that he enjoyed himself doing this, and that's not always the case.

Candy From Strangers
Jim Rodgers and Byron Jackson

And then there was Candy From Strangers. Let's get the minor complaints out of the way right off the bat. Firstly, the font chosen for the lettering doesn't suit my tastes. I know this sort of soft italicization has been in vogue over the last decade or two, but I've never been a fan of it; it's annoying to read and it also makes everything look like an Image comic.
I also wasn't thrilled with the graphic violence on display on pages three and four; for me, these panels didn't enhance the creepy mood of the story but undermined it, turning what could have been a subtly dark story into an in-your-face shock display that I believe was unnecessary to the story. The suggestion of violence is often more powerful than the depiction of it, as it allows the imagination to fill in the details more thoroughly than any pen can.

I'm being critical because in all other respect, this is a very well done title, which starts off with detectives examining a crime scene. I'm not entirely sure where the story is going, which also is a bit of a weakness, as more of a hook could have been crafted to draw readers in, but overall the writing is definitely above average, as is the moody artwork. If people are intrigued enough -- and are willing to actually read this much dialogue, which modern audiences seem increasingly uninterested in doing -- then this could be a contender.

My Grades: I'm giving this a very strong B+; I had to dock it slightly for the reasons stated above, but this has potential in the long run to develop into an A.

Iron Sam
David Dumeer

Iron Sam is a slightly quirky but generally straightforward post-apocalyptic tale that reads a bit like Mad Max meets Lone Wolf and Cub. In this opening segment, we basically get an extended action sequence, where the eponymous samurai-like robot gruesomely dispatches a bunch of biker types menacing a girl who is jammed into, like, an old dryer. Sam takes care of them pretty quickly using what appears to be a really sharp segment of plumbing and then drives off with a wagon of body parts in tow. The end.

The art here is serviceable, if a little stiff in the action panels, and the violence, while extreme, is just cartoony enough for me not to mind too much. There's also a little bit of a spark in the relationship between robot guy and appliance girl, which could make an interesting dynamic. Overall, though, I thought this was just a little to one-note, and while I did wonder why Sam needed a bunch of torsos, I'm not sure I care enough to find out the answer.

My Grades: Solid but perhaps a bit too derivative. A C+ seems appropriate.

Chuck Harrison

Cartoonist Chuck Harrison brings a decidedly different tone to this essentially wordless strip, where all the "dialogue" is done entirely in binary code. The story (or vignette, I suppose) is about a Geppetto-like fat guy who make tiny versions of EVE from Wall-E. This is all fun and lighthearted right up until he has a massive coronary and topples over, leaving his little robot creations to figure out what just happened.

What happened, as it turns out, is... well... something in binary. While the code thing didn't bother me (and was actually a little cute), it did lead to a little bit of confusion for me at the end of the story, as I wasn't sure exactly why the horde of EVEs attacked the newbie. I also was just a little put off by the art, which actually was really nice and expressive but which also seemed oddly squished, as though he drew the entire thing on a loaf of Wonder Bread before sitting on it. I'm not sure if this was regular sized art squeezed into the Zuda format, but it might have benefited from being done to scale. Unless, of course, Harrison just likes drawing wide guys, in which case he should come to my weekly poker game to get some live modeling done.

My Grades: Cute and original-ish, but I have to dock points for the squishiness. B.

Pavlov's Dream
Shari Chankhamma

This whimsical story from Shari Chankhamma stands out pretty well among the mostly darker, action stories on Zuda, as it tells the (sometimes wordless) story of a couple kids who go through a door to another fantastic world where adventure awaits in the form of a spirit inhabiting the main character's shadow. Or, it would stand out, if it weren't similar artistically (in terms of color palette, anyway) and thematically to November's Molly and the Amazing Door Tree.

That strip, you might recall, finished 9th, and while Chankhamma shows some innovation in page layout and use of graphic symbols in place of dialogue (Scott McCloud would be so proud) I'm afraid this one isn't likely to fare much better.

My Grades: I liked it okay, though it was just a bit choppy at times; it's harder to establish a mood in eight pages than it is to craft a hook for a plot-driven story. Within those constraints, then, I'll give this one a B.

Tomorrow: The next five! What else did you expect?

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

December Zuda Wrap-Up

The calender has completed another of its inexorable turns, which means, as a new month arrives, so to does a new winner over at Zuda Comics. Every month we take a look at the ten competitors, weigh the pros and cons and discuss the possible winners and losers and then, when the next month begins, we watch as everything we said is shot all to hell by the power of the internet. So how did we do this week with our predictions compared to the actual results? Well, before we take a look, you can refresh your memory with a look at the first five entries... and then the second five. Go on, we'll wait.

Done? Man, those were lucid and insightful, huh? But how close did they come to hitting the mark?

Well, the winner for December turned out to be One Hit Knock Out. Yes, I actually got one right for once, as I said last month that One Hit Knock Out was "the leader in the clubhouse," which is a golf metaphor that can also frequently be applied to Tiger Woods, if you know what I mean.

Of course, not all of my comments were quite as prescient. For instance, I gave Jason and the Argonauts Redux a solid B on the strength of its art, which usually is the major selling point in this competition. Final rank: 10th. Ouch. Also surprising me was the 5th place finish for SubSuelo, which, while it didn't exactly light my world on fire, still figured for me to be a top three entry.

Instead, the second and third place strips were Villain (a minor surprise, mainly because this seemed a bit too familiar to get that many votes) and Unseen Tribe (a bigger surprise because, well, wtf?).

Still, the order of the entries for this month is, for me, pretty much a crapshoot, as there were a number of solid if uninspiring entries this time around with no real standouts. The question seemed to be whether or not the votes would go to a comic that had spark or one that was just solidly executed and it looks like, with the choice of One Hit Knock Out, the voters decided to go with inspiration over perspiration. I can't say it matters too much to me on a personal level, though, because for the second month in a row I have no real interest in reading any of these titles beyond the first eight pages anyway.

Hopefully the new year will turn that trend around and bring out a stronger crop of comics.

Tomorrow: Speaking of which, tomorrow we'll take a look at the new entries for January. See you then.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tales From the Vault: IRON MAN #66

Hey, all you Marvel Zombies! What could possibly be cooler than a Thor versus Iron Man throwdown? If you're like me -- and I know you are, only less so -- then that sort of thing is totally the cat's pajamas. But why settle for recent imitators (like JMS's Thor #3) when you can go right to the classics? That's right, it's time for a look at Iron Man #66 in a tale someone could only call... Night of the Thunder God!

Details: This gem comes to us straight out of February, 1973 (meaning it was actually published in late 1972, but who's counting?). The art is by classic Iron Man artist George Tuska, who sadly passed away recently, and the less classic Mike Friedrich, better known as The Lesser Friedrich. Can Friedrich and Tuska deliver on the cover's promise? Well, let's go with maybe on that one.

Synopsis: Oh, look, this story turns out to be continued form the previous issue; I'm going to guess that the last issue had Thor suddenly swoop in out of nowhere on the last page. Just a hunch. It starts with Thor and Iron Man facing off, and as they do so, an onlooker shouts "Iron Man's gone nuts -- attacking everything in sight -- and Thor's vowed to stop him!" Well, buddy, I didn't ask you, but thanks for the exposition. That pretty much fills us in, but Friedrich follows this up with a brief recap of last issue: turns out Iron Man is possessed by the spirit of an evil skrull, who...

Forget it, I'm not reading the rest. More Secret Invasion crap. The pages of this comic smell like Bendis. I give up.

Wait, I see a picture of Dr. Spectrum, so I guess we'll keep going. This skrull spirit, see, was trapped inside Spectrum's power prism. When Spectrum attacked Iron Man -- I guess this was the evil Spectrum from the Squadron Sinister -- the skrull managed to break free from his imprisonment and take over Iron Man's body. Just as he was about to kill Spectrum, though, Thor swooped in and stopped him. Ah, as I thought, the infamous "last page swoop".

So, recap done, the evil skrull Iron Man tries to trick Thor by pretending he's still really Iron Man, but I guess this is the worst skrull ever, because Thor figures it out, oh, instantly. Plus, this skrull is just a giant moron in general, because he says in his recap that he attracted Thor by smashing everything in sight to show off his new form. And he is shocked that Thor has showed up because he didn't expect "to be challenged so soon" and this has disrupted his plans to dominate Earth, because even he knows that Iron Man is no match for Thor.

Man, that sounds really stupid. You didn't expect to be challenged so soon? This throws a wrench in your plans to conquer the Earth? Except, like, Earth is covered with superheroes who specifically hang around waiting to stop challenge would-be conquerors. And you just went on a giant demolition spree right off the bat. What did this guy expect would happen?

Anyway, he decides to just use his power prism to turn invisible and run away -- finally, a halfway smart idea -- except Thor makes it rain so he can see the outline of the guy, then clobbers him. Whap! Just like that, fight over. Man, that was... exactly as fast as it should have been, for once. And that means...

...time for a long flashback. We see that Happy Hogan has just revealed to his wife, Pepper Potts-Happy (er... or something), that Stark is Iron Man, and she's like, "oh, get over yourself, you jealous liar". This, of course, kind of ticks Happy off. Just then, he hears a news flash that Iron Man is fighting Spectrum, so he decides to prove to his wife that she's being a jerkazoid. He does this by opening Stark's briefcase and putting on the Iron Man armor himself. Then he flies off while Pepper shouts at him to stop showing off cause he's just going to do something dumb. Way to stand by your man, lady. Good one.

Okay, flashback over. While Thor is trying to revive Iron Man, the cops bring Spectrum over, and he's like "smooth move, exlax" and mentally seizes control of the prism again, busting himself free and flying off. Just then, another Iron Man flies in from nowhere right asThor begins kicking Spectrum's rear. This second (third?) Iron Man shows up, though, and says that this is his fight and Thor should back off. Man, I dunno about you, but I hate that sort of macho crap. "Back off, Thor. This is between me and Dr. Spectrum. Even if all of the Eastern Seaboard gets destroyed in the process, and I lose a hand, I want to prove to him that I am his superior." Dude, how about letting Thor help? Public safety ever enter your mind. After all, you know, it's THOR. He could end this fight in about nine seconds if you would let him. In fact, he just did a couple pages ago.

But, no. Thor is like "sure thing, Tony, I'll just hang out over here while you two wreck all of Chicago". So, they start fighting. Spectrum tries a couple of Z-grade Green Lantern tricks that don't work, then goes the old diversion route by creating a robot that he sends careening into a park of civilians. Frankly, it would be justice if a bunch of them got hurt, because then Iron Man could be brought up on charges of Unlawful Machismo for his decision to keep Thor on the sidelines. Instead, though, Iron Man wrecks the robot in one hit (a big splash page).

We also get this bit of inspired (or is that insipid?) Friedrich prose:

"His gaze is steel -- and some say his veins are as well... But you can well appreciate the word on the street! 'Don't mess with this man-machine!'"

Wow, really, Mike? That's the best you can give us? Somewhere, Stan Lee is weeping a solitary tear.

Finally, Dr. Spectrum actually comes up with a good idea (better than that invisibility one, even). Since Iron Man is just smashing everything he makes, he creates a big device that is intended to be smashed. When Iron Man breaks it, he's engulfed in flames. Mind you, this does nothing, but it was a good idea anyway.

Realizing he's getting his butt kicked, Spectrum whips up an airplane to fly away in, which is a bit odd since he's already flying without it. Iron Man quickly wrecks this as well -- someone call Damage, Inc. already -- and once Spectrum has safely crashed to the Earth, Iron Man stomps on the prism and destroys it. He then unmasks Spectrum, who turns out to be... an African economist named Dr. Obatu. Hmm. I wasn't expecting that.

Anyway, Iron Man rushes over to the other Iron Man, who is being tended to by Don Blake, meaning that at least one of these Avengers was doing something useful. It looks grim for... some guy named Eddie March. Yep, that Happy Hogan thing was just a red herring. Now we find out that Pepper's speech actually convinced Happy to take the suit off, but unbeknownst to everyone, Eddie March (another friend of Stark's) was running around with an Iron Man suit when he also heard about the fight with Spectrum and decided to jump in himself.

So, apparently just about everyone in America had an Iron Man suit back in 1973. Personally, this whole switcheroo with Iron Man turning out to be Happy turning out to be some random dude seems pretty cheap to me. In a thought balloon we see that Iron Man had fled to repair his armor during the fight with Spectrum and he called Jarvis and had him send Thor over to help. Which is weird, since he didn't, in fact, allow Thor to help any once they were both there.

The issue ends with Blake telling Iron Man that March might live but they need to get him to the hospital right away; we then see a closeup of the smashed power prism and some crap about Spectrum maybe reappearing at some future date.


Comments: This issue has a couple problems. Firstly, the structure is kinda horrible, with the big flashbacks interrupting the action and stuff. Slightly more jarring, however, is the fact that nothing makes a lick of sense in this entire issue. The whole Happy Hogan red herring thing, with the defeated iron Man being revealed as a random third character who hadn't even appeared in the issue yet, is worse than lazy, it's outright cheap.

Plus, the big Thor vs. Iron Man fight shown on the cover never happens, and the stand in Iron Man gets creamed in about one page. So, in other words, this is an even lamer sales ploy than most of these lame sales ploys. Blah.

My Grades: This comic gets a C-, saved only by George Tuska and the presence of Dr. Spectrum, who is really cool even when he's a lame skrull or whatever the heck was going on here. The Iron Man vs. Thor angle gets a giant F-, though, for ripping off everyone who's so much as seen the cover.

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Friday, January 1, 2010

Decade in Review: The Big Event

Welcome to the first of our ongoing series looking back at the decade in comics. Over the next month or so, we'll be taking a look at some of the trends and events that shaped the comic industry over the past ten years. Fittingly, we begin with perhaps the biggest trend of all: the Big Event.

Event books, of course, aren't a new development over the past ten years. First pioneered in the early 80's with series like Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths, the giant event has long been a staple of the marketplace. Not all events are created equal, of course; after those first early successes, Marvel and DC struggled to recapture their success, turning out duds like Legends, Millenium and Invasion (and those were just some of the DC failures). But while these mega-crossovers were once just an annual excuse for readers to buy a couple tie-ins, over the lats decade they have evolved to become the single driving force in the mainstream marketplace.

That change can be laid in part at the door of what was unquestionably the biggest event of the decade, Civil War. Not since Crisis on Infinite Earths twenty years earlier had an event comic actually had a major effect on the shared universe it occurred in. This, for the most part, helps explain why events had previously been so unpopular, as the effects of these giant storylines rarely lasted for more than a couple months, and only then in the core titles.

Civil War changed that, with widespread ramifications that altered the entire concept of the Marvel Universe on a scope that far exceeded, say, Onslaught (which only really affected a small handful of books, and only then for a one year period). With Civil War, Marvel editor in chief Joe Quesada and his team of hot writers re-imagined the status quo of every character in their stable. And they did it in a series which played to fanboy tastes by pitting heroes against each other. Now all those people who had argued for years about "who would win in a fight" could find out for themselves as the heroes battled it out in the streets.

And it wasn't just a gimmick (though, of course, it was that too); the ramifications of Civil War are still being explored today, as the event has been revealed to be just the first part in a multi-event arc that is still ongoing. The combination of kewl concept and lasting effects helped drive Civil War to be one of the biggest sales sensations of the decade. And that, in turn, meant one thing: imitations.

Concurrent with Civil War, of course, was DC's own (and typical for the company, confusing) tweaking of their universe, Infinite Crisis, which was also a massive sales hit. With both companies experiencing unprecedented success with their events, then, it was inevitable that both would turn to even bigger and more frequent events than in the past. Now, instead of a once-yearly crossover, events are ongoing and overlapping; ramifications from Civil War were still being explored when World War Hulk hit; that, in turn, was being cleaned up when Secret Invasion started; and Secret Invasion never really ended, as it led directly into Marvel's ongoing non-event event, Dark Reign, which itself spawned multiple events-within-events like the upcoming Siege storyline.

The downsides to this phenomenon, of course, are multiple, starting with the fact that an industry indebted to large scale events is by definition unstable. Previously, a long standing title might have a solid baseline sale figure that was occasionally boosted by an event. Now, however, it seems to be the opposite: fluctuating sales that drop when there is not an event. In part, of course, this is because fans are being trained to follow events (an creators) rather than characters and titles; the famous brand loyalty that used to exist within the comics community, and so often resulted in fans habitually buying titles that they may not actually enjoy any longer, is becoming a thing of the past. After all, if Event X is the most important thing going, and a specific series is not involved in that event, is there any reason to buy it? Titles and characters who aren't involved in events are, in effect, marginalized by their absence.

And in turn this also dictates uneven stories within those individual titles, as it is increasingly difficult for creators to plot and carry out extended arcs with specific characters without being interrupted by the need to have the latest event intrude and play hob with their ideas. This, too, is nothing new -- Roger Stern's Avengers in the mid-80's, for example, was diluted by forced Secret Wars II crossover -- but again, it's the scale that is different now. Indeed, some titles seem to have no existence at all outside of these event tie-ins.

Of course, events aren't all bad; at their best, they can offer grand storytelling on a scale impossible for a single title to approach and can, as has been seen with Civil War, generate huge excitement among the fanbase for titles and characters that had been languishing (Captain America being an example that we will look at in greater detail later this month).

But while events draw in some fans with the flash and dazzle, they also drive away others who are turned off either by dissatisfaction with how the story affects their favorite titles or through simple budget concerns over needing to buy so many tie-ins to understand the event. Which may help explain a strange phenomenon: while event books continue to grab the strongest sales of the decade, overall, sales continue to slide.

Whether or not event books are the solution or the problem, then, is something that we'll have to wait a little longer to see.

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