Saturday, May 26, 2007

Marvel, what the heck?

So I gave the DC artists at Superman a hard time last week for sexist costuming and posing, but little did I know what Marvel was working on at the same time...

Heroes for Hire has been getting more and more anime/manga influenced, as have many Marvel titles, but going so far as to have these three hung up as victims threatened by tentacles? What the hell? Also, sources say Misty Knight's hair is impossible, but I find that to be a fairly minor complaint. After all, Marvel brought us Wolverine, and god knows his hair is imaginary.

But that's not all. Not only is Marvel embracing the worst aspects of anime, they attempt to hearken back to fifties sexuality with a sort of bizzare modern twist with this new Mary Jane Watson "comiquette".

Apparently, washing the spider-threads at the laundromat is dangerous for the secret ID, oh, wait, he doesn't have one anymore. Well, then maybe Stark Tower doesn't have a washing machine anywhere. Or maybe MJ just doesn't trust Jarvis with it. Regardless, I'm certain there's a good reason she's doing laundry in designer jeans and pearls, right? Maybe they just went to a concert, and she didn't feel like changing.

Now I'm not going to turn this into a blog about women's roles in comics, (for that, read Girl-wonder) but this is really beneath you, Marvel. Sex sells, but assuming your entire audience is composed of sexually frustrated teenage boys is a great way to ensure that it will be soon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Seducing Superman

Superman #662 was pretty good. It was kind of a slow paced issue, as Superman is investigating and thinking about things he's learned, but I'm really enjoying Busiek's latest tale, and the questions it raises for the Man of Steel are really good ones. Namely, "Am I doing too much?"

I just had one niggling problem with the issue, really.


She's pretty much the go-to hero in the DCU for all things magical, and I have no problem with that. Her "magic words" or cigam sdrow are a neat silver age gimmick that I enjoy.

Her costumes have always been racy, drawing from the sexy assistant school of vegas magicians. But this is just ridiculous:

Yes, she's searching for her PANTS. And maybe a shirt.

No woman, no matter how relaxed and comfortable she is in fishnets, is going to sit (or float) crosslegged in a thong, right in front of a man.

Unless... she wants him.

"namrepuS, kcehc tuo ym hctorc!"

Zatanna is a JLA reservist. She knows Superman's secret ID, and therefore that he's married. Is she trying to score with the Last Son of Krypton, or are the artists just that sexist?

You make the call.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I agree completely, and for once, for all the same reasons

Straczynski is so in love with himself as a writer that he creates a story that is 3/4ths simply panels of spidey going from place to place- the better to fill up these panles with text boxes full of "Peter Parker-Whiner-philosopher". Whereas in the beginning of Straczynski's 6 year run, he used the tachnique more sparingly to perfectly capture Spider-Man's intelligence and thoughtfulness, now he simply uses it to drag issues out in the manner that people usually accuse bendis of. The content of this issue could have been effortlessly reduced to ten, maybe 12 pages with no loss of quality whatsoever.

I've been waiting for a long time to have a spin through a dark spidey, but now it's going to do nothing but leave a shitty taste in my mouth. Add in the fact that Straczynski sees no need to incorporate any of the events in any of the other spider-titles into amazing's continuity, which in turn marginalizes those other, embarassingly superior spidey books (embarassing because they're not very good either, not even PAD's book) and you have a recipe for purest, forever character altering trash.

The only good thing about this issue is that colorist Matt Milla does such an amazing job over Garney's steadily improving but still only ok (seriously, Spidey looks like he's about to shoot his mouth-tongue at Ripley in some panels) pencils that sometimes, especially on the first page, that you can imagine that it's still J.R. Jr. on pencils.
Combine this with the One More Day preview, seen on newsarama and in the back of a few titles, wherein Peter Parker uses nothing but webbing to defeat Iron Man.
I dislike having Spidey take his mask off every two seconds, and... well, there's a reazon it's called Spider-Man, and not "The Amazing Peter Parker who has spider-powers". Joe Quesada, a reviled personage, seems to be fully on board with JMS's take on Spidey, going so far as to pencil Peter for him (and making him look like a Capuchin Monkey). Normally I defend Quesada, but... well, if he's been happy with Spidey for the past three years, and he says "This is going to be the year of the Spider" I shudder to think of what kind of shit we'll see next. Witch Doctor Spider-Man? Abandons Science entirely, or applies science to the priestly rituals of Anansi? Fuck that.

Oh, and as a wonderful side-Benefit, garbage-tastic writers Daniel and Charles Knauf will feel compelled to have Iron jack bauerMan kick Spidey's ass while brushing his teeth, outsmarting Reed Richards and arm-wrestling the Hulk to a standstill while temporarily acting as president and wearing the Iron Spider suit and duplicating all of spidey's powers in order to one-up the retardation of Spidey first damaging, then immobilizing the INVINCIBLE IRON MAN (Class 60 strength, bursts of 100) with... wrist goo. That must be some pretty good magic.

Please, God- I come before you Humbled, humiliated, defeated.... to ask you for one thing- Kill J. Michael Straczynski.

Amazing Spiderman #540 review

This review contains plot details of the comic in question. Spoiler warning is out of habit only, as anyone who hasn't lived under a rock for the last twenty years has already read this story.

This issue of Batman Spiderman opens with him worried about the fate of his lover aunt, who was shot by a sniper. Batman Spiderman follows up on his only clue, an expensive sniper scope used by the shooter. He beats up several arms dealers, before finally finding the one he knows has the name he's looking for. As an interrogation technique, he throws the gunrunner out a window and catches him with a batrope web right before he hits the ground.

Getting the information he needs, Spidey tracks down the sniper to Grand Central Station, and finds him by provoking a gunfight. In a crowded train station.

Good plan, there.

Somehow during the course of the fight, Spidey and his target move down the stairs from the station to one of the platforms, allowing for a punch up among the pillars a la The Matrix. This movement isn't shown in the art, we simply see Spidey punching the sniper with emotionally intense washed colors behind them.

Suddenly, and without tripping the spider-sense (maybe they borrowed tech from Iron Man), someone guns down Peter's opponent and makes a break for it. Batman Spiderman throws a tracking device on the gunman as he runs away.

Spidey stays with the sniper and waxes poetic about the symmetry of his Aunt's attacker being shot, probably on orders from the same person. It's long and boring and then the sniper dies. Then Spidey hares off after the tracking device and arrives just in time to discover that the man who ordered his Aunt's death is Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. As the readers have known this since 4 or 5 issues ago, this is really anticlimactic. The issue ends with a death threat to the Kinpin uttered by our Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman.

I probably made my point already, but this is a Batman script. Aunt May being shot aside, black costume irrelevant. This. Is. Not. Spiderman.

In addition, it's a Batman script from 1974. The revenge angle is really, really played out. It's just dull now.

Another fun aspect of this is the continuity. In New Avengers, Spidey's hiding out with the rest of the team, sneaking about and living in the Sanctorum of Dr. Strange. The team hesitates to go out, because the thunderbolts and SHIELD are hounding them. In ASM, Spidey's biggest complications are a couple of cops here and there as he bops around Manhattan.

I could go on, but it's really just frustrating now. Marvel, get Stracinsky off ASM ASAP. When Spiderman was truer to character in New Avengers than he was in his own book, it should have been a clue. Here's hoping for a fresh start and a better writer in ASM #550.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Contribution; Or, Civil War: The Rebuttal

If you take posts on the internet to be a judge of people's opinions on Civil War, I am the only person on the planet who not only liked Civil War, but was on Tony's side (for the most part). In this post I intend, way, way too late for it to be of any interest to anyone, to show why I think that not only was the comic well conceived and for the most part well executed, but that 'in' universe, Tony's stance, whether or not Tony himself is a douchebag, is pretty much the only way to go.

As a Comic:

Progressing from the comparatively trivial the the profound, I'll start of by agreeing, and perhaps emphasizing what Exar said below; Steve McNiven's art is amazing.

Aside from that...

I think what people don't like about civil war shoots straight in from the tie-ins. Amazing Spider-Man's tie-ins were shit, for the most part insulting to the readers thereof, and diminished Spider-Man as a whole. No, I'm not talking about the demasking; I'm for that, actually. But basically, Spider-Man goes from sucking Tony's dick, to rebelling against him because he doesn't have a stomach for seeing people put in prison. Eric posted a quote from a friend of his on my blog about how he was 'with Spider-Man, taking the tagline of the series and putting his own spin on it. but basically, I see Spider-Man's position in Civil War as the worst; He's a dumbshit who picks the right side for the wrong reasons and switches to the wrong side for the weakest reasons. I love Spidey, and such is his lot in life, so I'm not screaming about how they took him off of 'my' side, but wow.
Reading Civil War #1-7 by themselves, they suffer a bit from rushing, and force some of the details into other books, but by themselves they are filled with snappy dialogue, amazing art and gripping cliffhangers. Sure, it was filled with some dumb choices; Why Pym couldn't shrink Goliath, I have no idea. But when you read utter garbage like Civil War: X-Men, it's hard to believe in the quality of this crossover.

Something like this was inevitable in a universe with any loose attachment to our world- it is an updating of the Marvel Universe to the post 9-11 atmosphere of fear and legislative control.

Can I say something for the forum geeks? I'm going to.
Marvel isn't on Tony's Side. They aren't on Cap's side, either. They're on the side that has you clenching your fist, angry and upset or righteously indignant, caring about the Marvel Universe the same way that wonks care about the politics of our universe. They thrill as you buy up books to support characters who are on 'your side'. They are in the business of telling good stories, not telling ones where everything is happy. Look at politics again; Elections over which people are bitterly divided have by far, far far the highest turnout. Correspondingly, divisive, controversial stories sell the most comics, and Civil War drives that home by being the best selling comic of 2006, and possibly the best seller of 2007, as well. (well, really, 52 sold more comics than any other comic last year, because there were like 30 published in the year; but 52 is really much more like 7 or 8 comics cut up and spliced together; and single issues of Civil War outsold single issues of 52 by wide margins.)

Now, as to why Tony's right...

I'm not going to argue about Tony's methods. While I myself hope that when I die, my friends clone me, Tony does a lot of dubious things in Civil war, and even more things that are confusingly written and leave a lot of room for interpretation (I think, for example, his hiring of Titanium Man in Amazing Spider-Man's prelude to Civil War was an attempt to show that the system is working- Exar thinks it was to precipitate the passing of the act)But Tony is not the living embodiment of registration, and there could be a registration act with or without him, and we should examine its merits and flaws, and they come in two parts.

1: Superhuman Registration, and 2: Superhero licensing and deputizing.

Superhuman registration is the tough ethical one. It's hard to put a stand on it, because when it comes down to mutants, it's racial profiling. OF course, there is a real, bonafide difference between a mutant, and say, a second generation Mexican-American; A mutant could explode you. Now granted, not all mutants can- in fact, most mutants can't, but let's discuss the ethical grounds for making a distinction.

One of the things about racial discrimination in our world is that it is unjust. Not hiring a black person because he is black is unjust, because we, as enlightnened people, know that all other things being equal, the color of a person's skin, or the shape of their genitalia, means jack-shit all about what they can or can't do. Similarly, that they can do and cannot do all the same things that we can do, so creating laws over color simply is automatically unfair; judging someone for a superficial difference that they can't control.

A mutant has a difference, and they can't control it; but it is often far from superficial. Many mutants have an immense power over the 4 freedoms of others, and worse yet, not all of them even have control over their powers. What good is being free an unregistered if a child with powers the likes of Cyclops is born to A backwoods family of Church of Christ Scientists? Not much. He's likely to kill everyone around him until the authorities are forced to put him down when he endangers others. And not having a law in place that makes it so authorities are authorized or required to help this child seems... stupid, to me. Granted, it does somehow ring of fascism, say, when a mutant like Beak is forced to register. But being registered is not itself an undue violation of liberty or privacy. Much like a warrant, the authorities would need to have reasonable cause to assume a person has powers, and then be responsible to conduct their dealings with a mutant with powers above the board, on the level, and in a way that preserves every freedom possible.

Essentially, powers or mutantdom become something akin to Driving; If you have powers, good for you; but if you are using them, you must register. While there are some legilative differences between this last stance, the right one, and what the law in the MU actually is, in practice, as shown in CW: the Initiative #1, in practice they are the same- A mutant who has the power to set fire to things has little to fear if he doesn't use his powers, or uses them only on his own property on his own time. Finally, a mutant compliant with these regulations is no doubt protected by the Equal opportunity act.

There's also the little racial matter that the Mutants are an endangered species, under protection from both the U.N. and the U.S. government and are all registered with the authorities before CW even starts.

When it comes to people who get their powers from 'happy accidents', their right are a little less clear. They're not being profiled for their race; they have been the recipients of radiation or genetic tampering. Their powers may very, very well cause them cancer or other diseases. They are not subject to even the gentle guiding hand of mother nature towards survivable traits. They may even be the result of alien genetic tampering (Nitro, Ms. Marvel, etc.)and literally sent here to kill us all. It sucks, but you have to legislate the part of them that is a national interest, and then do the right thing and protect the rest of their lives. Registration and Equal Opportunity protections are the right thing. With people like these, it's no longer profiling; nobody cares if their appearance simply changed, except possibly of compassion or attraction; it's focused right on where the public has a right to be concerned; mass public harm or infringement of liberties.

As for the draft...

While CW: the initiative #1 seems to imply that registering is the same as being up for the draft, Joe Quesada has been abundantly clear: Registering is not the same as signing up for the 'draft' so to speak; The 'draft' applies when you decide you want to use your powers to become a costumed crimefighter, and that when you do, you may be asked to provide cooperation and support in legitimate peacekeeping actions. Because Kirkman, the writer of the initiative, is a genius, I'm assuming that the revelation of the difference between the two to Cloud 9, the young heroine in CW:tI#1 either happens off panel, or that War Machine was intentionally misleading.
Taking aside the in-comic depictions in CW:tI, a draft seems draconian to us, but mandatory terms of service for citizens is fairly common in our world: the following countries all have mandatory armed services for citizens:
China (PRC)
Korea, South
Taiwan (ROC)

While many of these countries are not exactly shining examples in the fight for human liberties, the idea of citizenship as a privilege and service as a/the means of gaining that privilege is hard to really see as truly malevolent, draconian and fascistic. And if the draft works as Joe Quesada (marvel's Editor In Chief) implies, then it is not much different than obligations all of our nation's law enforcement must adhere to.

Finally, vigilantism.

Vigilantism is wrong. Period. It's against the law in America, and with good reason- First of all, having justice dispensed by a dispassionate system protects justice from being subsumed by revenge; it allows us a nationwide understanding of what is wrong and what is right. It keeps us from having 'justice' dispensed by a neighbor who thinks that what two men or women do in the privacy of their own bedroom is a crime against god, punishable by death.

Personal justice is of course wrong. I hope I don't have much dissent on this. Sure, an occasional act of citizen's justice, in line with the law of the land, is great. But when a guy puts on a pair of pajamas and goes out 7 nights a week to fight crime...

A police officer, in addition to being trained in how to protect the peace and the innocent, is also trained in the responsibilities of an officer of the peace. A police officer has regulations and training him telling him when to call for backup, when to read someone their rights, the liberties of suspects and how to respect them, and an order of operations for when people are in danger and crimes are being committed. Perhaps most importantly, a police officer is responsible to a chain of command and ultimately to the people if he discharges these duties improperly and recklessly. It is out and out wrong for a person to flout this responsibility simply because the person has powers. A court would throw out evidence gathered by an unlicensed, freelance detective working a case for a friend, and it would be intensely difficult for a jury to convict the kind of mugger that Spider-Man so often catches and leaves webbed to a lamp-post with some circumstantial piece of evidence webbed along with them. Apprehending people, subduing them, judging that they have violated the rights of others and then in turn compromising the rights of alleged wrongdoers in the service of the public good is a great power and should come with great responsibility.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Civil War Thoughts, Part the Second: What they got right.

This contains spoilers for Captain America #25, Civil War #1-7, and various other recent Marvel comics. Read at your own risk.

Lest it seem that I have nothing but disdain for Marvel's Civil War crossover event, I have decided to list here what I thought they did well, and what I hope to see more of in the future.

The Return of Captain Marvel

I thought this was really cool. Considering the fact that it was Nitro of all people that kicks off the show in Civil War #1, there's a neat bit of symmetry when Captain Marvel turns up unexpectedly. Bringing this character back was a smart move. He's fairly popular, and the setup is perfect. He's already been exposed to the cancer-causing gas. He's a dead man walking and he knows it. His wife has already mourned him, and he's surrounded by familiar people who he doesn't know.

There's so much pathos there it makes me want to cry. Whatever writer gets to play with Mar-Vell is in for a treat. There's some great material there.

The Fifty-State Initiative

This is cool on many levels. Sure at first glance it's silly, 'cause freaking Idaho doesn't have supervillain issues like New York does, why does it need a team?

But when you think about it, it opens the door for a lot of great storytelling. Wherever a chase or investigation leads you, you'll have a handful of supporting characters for backup. And in the hands of a good writer, even a team of c-listers can be fun. Just look at Squirrel Girl and the Great Lakes Avengers.

Also, imagine the potential for conflict when people get touchy about jurisdiction. "Sorry, you can't chase that supervillain into Texas. He's Ranger business now. Go on home." There's even room for fish out of water stories. Imagine a hero from LA suddenly assigned to Kansas or North Dakota. Just picture Nighthawk cropdusting.

Captain America's Death

This one is a qualified like. His death was very well handled and respectful. It is having a significant effect on the Marvel Universe, and actually sparked human emotion from UltronTony Stark. Ed Brubaker is a good writer, and with the help of Brian Bendis in New Avengers, has managed to make me care about Cap again. Brubaker does the very best he can with limited options. Shot by a sniper is not a terribly heroic way to go down. Even if the sniper is paid off by the Red Skull. It would have been much more satisfying for the fans if the Red Skull had done it personally somehow. But since he's "dead" and possessing some Russian guy (Why? I have no idea.), that wasn't an option. The Mind Control/triggered hypnosis on Sharon Carter is cool, though. It sets up what should be an interesting story arc in the issues to come.

The Art

Civil War is gorgeous. Honestly it is. Steve McNiven is good. The level of detail is nice too. A lot of symbolism thrown around, lots of torn masks and whatnot. The proportions and posing of the characters is highly realistic, which only heightens the feeling of immediacy that Marvel strove for in these books. They are trying to make their universe of flying men, mutants and magic seem more like our own, and art like this is a good way of doing it. The tie-in titles are fairly standard fare for their respective creators, but I didn't see anything glaringly bad. She-Hulk has great art as always, and I have to give them bonus points for actually depicting Shulkie as a full-figured woman, rather than yet another perfect hourglass figure. She has mass and bulk, and she should.


Fantastic Four # 541 was one of the best comics I've read in a long time. I laughed on almost every page, but at the same time, the humor was tempered by the knowledge of what Ben Grimm was running away from. His longing for a simpler time was one I understood completely.

Aunt May getting Shot

Not to be bloodthirsty or anything, but kill the old bat already. She's dead weight on the Spider-titles, and I really don't want to see another story arc about her and Jarvis hooking up. And really, if she lives through this, it's only a matter of time till Doc Ock comes for revenge and gets himself a MAX book.

Garth Ennis: I always wanted to do the Marvel version of Overfiend.

The Punisher in a mainstream book

He is not a Quentin Tarantino character, Marvel. He doesn't need to be hyperviolent 24/7 to sell comics. He's a Rambo style anti-hero. Write him like it. He's a trained military man, who has useful skills if you can just convince him to not shoot people. (This is hard to do.)

There were a lot more moments that I liked, such as Sue Richards stopping Tony from drinking, and Cap decking Punisher, but they are small against the bigger picture. Till next time, keep reading comics!


Next: the plot hole so big, it tunneled straight to hell.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Detective Comics #829 review

Spoiler warning, as plot details are discussed. If you haven't read this issue, you probably shouldn't read this.

This was a good issue, the story was engaging, and had some really nice moments of emotion and kinship shown between Batman and Robin, emphasizing their new relationship as father and son.

Look at that cover. Dr. Wertham would be proud. Batman standing behind Robin, who is covered in some kind of goo.

This is why people think you're gay, Bruce.

That aside, Batman as Bruce Wayne holding a peace summit in Wayne Tower? Very cool, and it's nice to see him portrayed as using his vast wealth for good, beyond simply buying bat-themed gadgets.

The bit at the beginning about how precious Wayne Tower is to him, as a token of his parents is a bit too blunt foreshadowing for my taste. The second he said it, I knew there was going to be a bombing in the issue. But it segued nicely into talking about one thing more precious to Batman, and introduced Robin into the scene, in the guise of Tim Drake (or is it Wayne now?) uncomfortable in his tux and feeling out of place among the high rollers.

Vox seems to be a fairly disposable villain, pun intended, as he is essentially a high tech suicide bomber. His liquid C4 gun is sweet, though. The way he squirts it around makes me wonder how he can get a detonator in each puddle and keep track of which is which, but that's probably overthinking things.

The angle of Bruce stuck in his secret ID because of the crowd of hostages has been done before, but it's done well here, as he makes good use of his cell phone and PA system to make people think he's in two places at once. Robin dashing into one of Wayne Tower's secret closets helps, too.

The issue ends on a nice cliffhanger, with Robin in deathly danger and Batman nigh powerless to rescue him, let alone the building and all the other hostages. It should be wrapped up next issue, in keeping with Detective's recent run of self-contained, one or two issue story arcs.

Overall, good stuff and well in keeping with DC's new angle on Batman: Hope in the darkness.