Friday, November 25, 2005

The Joy of Hex

Western fans have had a great fall comic book season. Not only was a new ongoing Jonah Hex title launched, but Jonah is also the star of one of the first DC Showcase Presents title.

Let’s start with the new. I don’t normally pick up new books, especially an ongoing series, because I just don’t think I have the time of patience to stay on top of things. Normally I’ll just wait to hear enough good things to pick up the TPB. When I saw Jonah’s ugly mug staring at me from the racks, I couldn’t resist. It’s great stuff – great art, superb script and it appears as though the creative team has a strong idea of the kind of ‘feel’ they want to give to the book. Kudos all around – and I am so stoked that westerns are getting another kick at the can.

On to the Showcase Presents volume. This was my first purchase of the DC ‘Essentials’ clone and I could not be more impressed. I really like the fact that DC decided to mix some of its true superstars (Supers and GL) with some characters that have more of a cult following (Hex and Metamorpho). The overall product it quite nice – good creator credits and the quality of the reprint is very nice. At this stage, I have only been through the first 10 stories or so, but they represent some of the finest storytelling (in any genre) of the Bronze Age. This is a great read, and I really don’t feel that the black and white format detracts from it too much.

The early Albano stories are very solid, as he only gives the readers hints as to what drives Hex. We learned much more from the frightened townspeople than from the man himself. This is how you set up continuing drama, each episode is both a self contained story and a building block. Another nicely played hand is the suggestion that nothing in the west lasts forever – as Jonah picks up a sidekick wolf for a very short amount of time. The finest tale in the collection so far is ‘Killers Die Alone’, in which the Albano/DeZuniga team is working in complete harmony. This is great, great stuff. It’s so good that I am actually forcing myself to only read one story per day, so that I can savour all of the snakebit, saddlesore greatness.

One odd, though not necessarily bad, choice was DC’s decisions to features some reprints of Outlaw for the final portion of this volume rather than continuing with more Hex. I own most of those pre-Hex All-Star Western issues, and I am glad the great art and solid writing will be finding a new audiences, especially the Jim Aparo western rarity. My guess, though, is that the average reader would feel happier with more Hex.

My fingers are crossed that we'll see a Diablo volume in the not too distant future, although Unknown Soldier would be at the very top of my wish list.

Friday, November 18, 2005

We've Lost Our Woody

Melinda & Melinda

I am always rooting for Woody Allen movies. I suspect a lot of people are like me. They hope he can do something that will remind people of why he was once a somebody, instead of just some old quasi-incestuous pedophile. Despite the interesting assemblage of young actors – this ain’t the movie to sets things straight. It sucks, and I mean ‘think about turning it off to watch Jeopardy’ sucks. The lead actress playing Melinda lets her Aussie accent tumble into every scene, except for those in which she sounds like Julie Delpy. I kept expecting her to say ‘farking’. Will Ferrell tries to do his best – but there are scenes in which is appears that he is playing Woody Allen in an SNL skit. Most of the acting is so wooden, you’d think every single person in the cast just found out that their dog had died. I like Amanda Peet, though. She’s usually the best thing in whatever movie she’s in. That probably says more about her project selection, though.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Giving a Thumbs Down to Allegedly Great Comics


Normally I like pretty things, and this is very pretty. It’s a neat little trick they pulled off and all of the heroes look like people I know from TV. I am not one of these ‘Alex Ross is the anti-christ’ people, but this mini-series just doesn’t resonate with me. I am glad I own it, and I will flip through it from time to time but that's about it. I never understood why this cause such a fuss when it was initially released – but I guess 1994 was just about the low point in comic book history, so this must have seen like the second coming of Fantastic Four #1. The real problem is that for a project that aims to bring the reader to the street level of the Marvel Universe, it comes across as detached. The only thing I learned is that if you stick to close to the tights and capes crowd, you’ll put your eye out. The little ‘mutie’ was the best part, and I wish there was an ongoing series about her. Whatever happened to her?

30 Days of Night

Man, I read so many good things about this series and the premise sounded so bloody brilliant that I was got my hands on the first TPB as soon as it came out. Not a bad start, but the thing just went nowhere. How could something that sounded so exciting end up being so boring? I wanted that whole ‘Omega Man – trapped and surrounded’ sense of dread, but it was totally absent. On top of it, the vampires came across as Buffy extras.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

I love Frank Miller. I really do. The man has provided me with plenty of comic reading goodness over the years. I am a child of his versions of Daredevil and Wolverine. Dark Knight Returns pretty much blew my 13 year-old mind when it came out. I have never had a problem with his storytelling or his chunky pencils. This was the first and only Sin City book I bought. It sucked. OK concept, poor execution. It’s just sloppy, and not in a good ‘loose pencils/flowing narrative’ kind of way. It’s just bad sloppy. Too much, too fast – the comic book equivalent of premature ejaculation.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What a Difference a Year Makes !

A long time ago, in galaxy far, far away there was an Earth-One, Earth-Two, Earth-X, Earth-X, Earth ad infinitum…

Each and every summer, comic book fans looked forward to the annual meet-up of superheroes from Earths One and Two – better known as the JLA and JSA, respectively. Recently, DC has collected these annual crossovers into several volumes of TPBs entitled Crisis on Multiple Earths. Even though I already own the originals of most of these in, I picked up the volumes 1, 2 & 3 of this not too long – thinking it would be cool to have all of the crossovers in one place.

Ok – that’s not really what I want to talk about. What I want to talk about is DC’s editorial shift in the mid-60s. No, I am not going to simply point out how stupid those Go-Go checks look, or how strange it was to see Batman on almost every single one of the company’s covers. I am here to question what the hell they popped into Gardner Fox’s coffee that made him produce crap like Justice League of America #47.

I am getting ahead of myself. Let us jump back into the wayback machine and dial up 1965 on the settings. That summer, young folk were treated to Justice League of America #37 and #38. Not only did that bring back Mr. Terrific and all of his Fair Play awesomeness, but it also gave us a very entertaining, very inventive story centering around Johnny Thunder and his loveable, dangerously obedient thunderbolt. The JLA finds itself neck deep in trouble when the Earth One Johnny Thunder (not the nicest guy) gains control of the Thunderbolt. There’s lots of good space-time continuum stuff here, and things are kept light and lively. It is a wonderful showcase of Gardner Fox’s writing abilities.

Now we jump ahead to 1966, at the height of Batmania. My main problem with the next crossover issues #46 and #47 is not the goofy sound effect laden cover to #46, but the terrible, terrible writing. I know this can’t all by Gardner Fox – he must have been getting his marching orders from somewhere. Someone was telling him to make it more ‘hip’. It comes across as worse than Bob Haney’s Teen Titans, because at least those were teenagers. Another travesty was the re-introduction of the Sandman, one of the coolest Golden Age character, as a guy with a gimmicky gun, rather than one simply filled with gas. It all comes across as a funhouse mirror image of a Marvel Comic. The plot makes no sense – Solomon Grundy and Blockbuster are suddenly ‘reformed’, and the dialogue is cringe worthy. Can you ever imagine Dr. Fate telling the Flash that his move was a ‘Spinner Winner’? How about the Atom telling the Spirit of Vengeance that he is ‘Spectre-acular’? Well, it happens here, folks.

DC published a lot of good stuff during the Silver Age – just not in 1966.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

There is something very appealing about watching Alfred Hitchcock’s early movies. While they don’t have all of the style and panache of his later big budget efforts, every so often there is a moment in an early film that is just 100% great. Not only was Hitchcock a young filmmaker, but film itself (the ‘talkie’ in particular) was in its infancy. I imagine it would be like listening to Hendrix learn to play the guitar and hearing a great, new riff every now and then.

The Man Who Knew Too Much may not be the perfect film, but it has a lot going for it and comes across as a very inventive and endearing film. It moves along at brisk pace with a good mix of action and dialogue and clocks in at a very efficient 75 minutes or so. Of particular interest is the fact that this was Peter Lorre’s first English language role, and he had to learn his lines phonetically. Another thing about many early ‘talkies’ that is striking, is the lack of score. There is so much silence in the film that the white noise almost becomes the soundtracks. It’s actually a bit unsettling for the modern moviegoer, who has grown accustomed to continuous music.
All in all, it’s an interesting little film but damn do I love Peter Lorre!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Where Monsters Dwell – 2005 Edition

Spotted this on the shelf and could not pass it up. Although I may not be a child of the 60s, I am a child of the 70s and the 10 cent rack at Queen’s Comics in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto featured plenty of unwanted back issues of Marvel reprint titles like Where Monsters Dwell and Where Creatures Roam. I loved these books, mainly because they were so different than anything else I was reading at the time. They were a perfect contrast to the grand sagas in the Avengers and X-Men and the grittiness of Miller’s Daredevil. Somehow, these little 8-page morality plays, mostly written by the Brothers Lieber, are beautiful in their simplicity and execution. Another interesting thing is I became familiar with certain artists’ styles (such as Ditko and Heck) moreso than through their work on superhero books. My 7-year old mind never connected Ditko weird creatures with the early Spidey books.

What we’ve got here is essentially a love letter to the pre-hero Marvel monster books. Although the creators are having a bit of fun at the expense of the genre, it is all done with TLC and they thankfully steer clear of the lazy man’s form of humour of simply mocking seemingly antiquated books.

The real highlight for me is the Peter David penned story setting against a Hollywood backdrop. Sure, it’s not much more than a couple of sight gags in the end, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Another treat is the reprinted story from Tales to Astonish #1o with Kirby art – it serves as a nice bookend to the Giffen/Allred opener.

Speaking of that opening story, my main complaint about this book is that it really highlighted the shortcomings of computer generated colours. Whatever technique they used on the Giffen/Allred story looked terrible – like zip-a-tone gone haywire. The colour reproduction on the Kirby reprint was much more subtle and proved far superior in the end. Overall, this is fun stuff and has convinced me to open up the wallet and picked up the rest of the Marvel Monsters Group titles.

Memo to publishers: You have me buying new comics for the first time in ages – keep up with these quality projects and you will continue to have my business. Overwhelm me with ‘big event’ crap, and I’ll be heading back to eBay for my fix.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A History of Violence – the Graphic Novel

A local comic book shop had a sale recently, and I spotted this ‘re-packaged as a companion piece to the movie’ graphic novel for $9.99 CDN. I know next to nothing about the movie except for that a man’s violent past comes back to haunt him. I knew the reviews were great and it sounded like a pretty intelligent piece of filmmaking, so I grabbed the opportunity to have a look at the source material at a very low price.

What can I say? This is good stuff, but very, very intense. I had no idea what I was getting myself into – it is very gut wrenching and more than a little gruesome in spots. Of course, none of the violence is gratuitous as it really adds to the ominous tone hovering over the storyline. The reader really feels what Tom feels – the cold fist wrapped around his spine.

After a discussion with a friend yesterday (who saw 24 films at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and proclaimed AHOV to be the best of the lot), I learned that the movie is quite different as the script deviates a good deal from the book, and parts that I couldn’t even imagine seeing on screen never do make it to screen.

Overall, I really dug this little book – the rather rough pencils help add to the atmosphere and the minimalist dialogue helps to propel the narrative. It’s serendipitous that both gangsters and small town Mid-Westerners speak in terse sentences. Good stuff – makes your skin crawl in all of the right ways.