Monday, June 12, 2006

SPOILERS ABOUND: an occasional digest of reviews, notes, and rants

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In this issue:
reviews of Wonder Woman #1, The Sensational Spider-Man #26, and Green Lantern #11 / notes on recent Marvel comics, Omega Men, and more recent rentals / rants about Double Articulation: One Year Later

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Wonder Woman #1 (DC Comics)
Alan Heinberg (Writer) / Terry Dodson (Penciller) / Rachel Dodson (Inker) / Alex Sinclair (Colorist) / Rob Leigh (Letterer)

Alan Heinberg, you do not disappoint. Wow.

This is the best first-issue relaunch of a major superhero title since George Perez released his Wonder Woman #1 back in 1987. The story is superbly paced and packed with action, surprises, and tantalizing teases. The games that Heinberg plays with the reader in this one are also cleverly knitted together by the motif of deception and unmasking that runs through the issue. And the art. Oh boy. The art! This is the best-looking Wonder Woman comic I’ve seen in ages. Without in any way abandoning their signature style, Terry and Rachel Dodson have passed through to the other side of cheesecake art. The women in this comic are gorgeous, tough, and heroic.

And then there’s the little matter of Donna Troy. Judging from some of the other responses to this issue that I’ve read, I am probably in a very small minority here, but the spread on pages 2-3 made my jaw drop and my heart beat a little faster—not with horror, but with sheer unbridled fanboy delight. Even if this is not a new status quo, Alan Heinberg and Terry and Rachel Dodson have done more to repair the damage to Donna Troy than even the combined talents of Phil Jimenez, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and George Perez were able to accomplish. It was so simple: just restore her connection to the Amazons. Suddenly, her character makes sense again. And looks better than she has since the heyday of the star-spangled red jumpsuit. A+

The Sensational Spider-Man #26 (Marvel)
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Writer) / Clayton Crain (Artist) / Cory Petit (Letterer)

So, who is this Clayton Crain dude?

I flipped through The Sensational Spider-man #26 at the comic shop on a whim this week and just about fell over. That is some beautiful artwork. I felt momentarily transported back to the gloomy brilliance of Brent Anderson’s painted covers for Somerset Holmes, that exceptional but short-lived series from Pacific Comics back in the early 80s. Crain’s computer-colored work has sharper lines than Anderson’s covers, but the sensibility is similar—and perfect for a good, dark Spidey story, which this one, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, about Spidey and his more bestial foes going feral, seems to be. Even if you don’t like the costume, there’s an image of Spider-man emerging on those creepy golden limbs from a lake on page 20 that is almost worth the price of the whole comic. Visually, Crain’s take on the new Spider-man is a throwback to the mud-caked, rainy, Gotham-style gothicism of Kraven’s Last Hunt, done up in surprisingly expressive and dynamic three-dimensional digital painting. (For a nifty video of Crain’s art-process, visit this link on his website, Hey Cat.) This is just a guest-spot for Crain while regular series artist Angel Medina takes a breather, but even if you don’t intend to buy the rest of the story, this issue is still one of the more satisfying visual takes on Spider-man that I’ve seen in quite awhile. The perfect impulse-buy.

Green Lantern #11 (DC Comics)
Geoff Johns (Writer) / Ivan Reis (Penciller) / Oclair Albert (Inker) / Moose Baumann (Colorist) / Rob Leigh (Letterer)

I forgot to mention this title during my overview of DC One Year Later series and that was a significant oversight. This book has been a strange one since its relaunch, and although I’ve enjoyed the stories and the high caliber of artists who’ve worked on them, this title has lacked the creative stability necessary to build long-term reader involvement in what is, after all, a serial, not a set of Green Lantern: Classified arcs. It’s therefore a great pleasure to see powerhouse penciller Ivan Reis take over as full-time GL artist at the same time that the title itself seems finally to be digging into some really exciting storytelling territory: the introduction of a Doomsday-like GL, the return of the Cyborg Superman, more Guy Gardner, and a tantalizing subplot involving the reformation of the Global Guardians (VERY stoked about that). What feels different about Green Lantern OYL is the sudden sense of depth and richness the events have been given, courtesy of that one year of blacked-out time. As much as I liked the austerity of that first story arc, this is what the early issues of the series were missing. The villains and subplots of this particular issue also connect Hal Jordan up to the bigger DCU in a way that I think the series needed. The Green Arrow and Batman guest spots were nice, but those aren’t the kind of continuity crossovers I’m talking about. Those were “small” stories, and it’s really great to see the seeds of larger events (such as the founding of the Global Guardians) being planted in a series that should be one of the lynch-pins of the more fully-integrated DCU.


For the Record: Recent Marvel

Despite that little burst of enthusiasm a couple of months ago, I’ve been kind of wary of Marvel lately. I no longer read many of the Marvel titles that were once staples (Uncanny X-Men, Amazing Spider-man, Fantastic Four) because I’ve been burned so many times by their false starts, rotating creative teams, and lousy storytelling that I just kind of lost interest. Those new versions of old favorites that I hang onto despite my better judgment (New Avengers, Astonishing X-men) currently test my patience as much as they entertain me. And Marvel’s latest event-comics are either vaguely depressing (Civil War) or disappointingly executed (Annihilation). So what am I enjoying from Marvel these days? Not too much, but not nothing either.

Charlie Huston, David Finch and Danny Miki’s brutal new Moon Knight series, for instance. Sick though it is, I love the ugliness, abasement, and sheer nastiness that Huston brings to the developing story of Marc Spector’s slow crawl out of (and back into?) the gutter. What Moon Knight does to his opponent in issue #2 was a real shocker and gruesomely sets the tone for a series that looks like it is really willing to visit some scary places—I’m totally hooked. David Finch’s detailed pencils and knack for prettified violence are perfect for this series; I hope he hangs around longer than he did for New Avengers. If the creative team sticks it out, this could be a classic in the making.

In a very different vein, there’s Brian Reed, Roberto de la Torre and Jimmy Palmiotti’s terrific new Ms. Marvel series. This is basically Dazzler version 2.0, harkening back especially to the slightly tougher Dazz who emerged fighting beside Wolverine and Colossus in the final few issues of her series, once it was already basically slated for cancellation. As Marvel’s new Alison Blair, Carol Danvers frets and fights her way through dangerous alien and human predators in what is turning out to be a very well-written, attractively-illustrated story of a second-rate superheroine trying to make it in the big-leagues. As his use of the Brood in the first couple of issues demonstrates, Brian Reed has an extremely good grasp of what it is that makes Carol Danvers cool—it’s not her brush with New Avengers status (as the cover of the first issue suggests), but fans’ memory of her as the underdog tag-along to the X-Men’s space-faring adventures. I wonder how long it will be before Rogue shows up (also, significantly, an old Dazzler antagonist). Great fun.

Another Marvel series that I actually look forward to these days is Fabian Nicieza, Tom Grummett, and Gary Erksine’s Thunderbolts. The series, which has been floundering since its rocky relaunch, has finally hit its stride in issue #102, which tells the origin of Janice “Joystick” Yanizeski. After the delicious reveals in this issue, I’m now going to have to go back and re-read the New Thunderbolts from the beginning, and possibly re-evaluate my earlier assessment of the story. Thanks to Tom Grummett’s slick superhero art, the title looks extra sharp, and the presence of characters like Nighthawk and the Grandmaster (who plays chess in his celestial living room!!) make this series too much fun not to love. Whew! I think I’m finally ready to relax and enjoy the ride.

Finally, although I haven’t been thrilled with most of the Annihilation miniseries, I am enjoying Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kev Walker, and Rick Magyar’s Nova. Like the rest of the Annihilation prologues, this one’s a slow-starter, but dynamic duo Abnett and Lanning are writing a nice character piece here and Walker’s pencils look sharp. If this team did a Nova ongoing, I’d plunk down my two nickels.

I’m still looking forward to Eternals and the constantly teased possibility of a new Alpha Flight. And of course, there are some other good Marvel series that still await me, either because I’m waiting for the trade or because their storylines are already so far along that I just haven’t worked up the energy to jump on board yet: She-Hulk, Runaways, Daredevil and possibly Captain America. As always, suggestions welcome.

Omega Men

I read the spectacular Adam Strange: Planet Heist recently, so I’m tickled to hear that DC is going to give the Omega Men another shot, even if it is only just a miniseries to start with. Here’s what series writer Andersen Gabrych has to say about the team line-up: “Tigorr, the take-no-BS leader, Broot the pacifist powerhouse, Doc, the TV-Headed team physician who has learned to use his healing powers to devastating results, Elu the living cosmic storm, and Ryand’r, brother to Teen Titan, Starfire, who has a whole new set of powers and a brand-new codename which has everything to do with our story. We also will pick up a new lady-member who has roots deep in the DCU’s cosmic mythos and an old Omegan will return in an entirely new way.” And here’s what he has to say about the story: “This goes right to the heart of faith, quantum mechanics, death, God, and the beauty of existential diversity. With lots and lots of kick-ass fighting, featuring guest appearances by Superman, the Teen Titans, Green Lantern, and more!” Gee, sounds almost as if it was being written specifically for,! All these guest appearances sound great too, especially for a reader like myself who isn’t actually all that well-versed in Omega Men lore, but who remembers the group mainly as cool supporting players in other comics. Like many, I was first introduced to the team in New Teen Titans #24 during the Blackfire/Tamaran space-epic—the storyline that cemented my love of the Titans after the amazing Brother Blood issues. I didn’t buy the subsequent Omega Men series (despite gazing rapturously at Keith Giffen’s sumptuous cover to the first issue), but I did pick up the odd issue here and there over the course of that run and really enjoyed it. From the impressive reconstruction of the Green Lantern Corps, to the reintroduction of classic pulp-style space heroes like Adam Strange and Captain Comet, to the relaunching of fan-favorites like the Omega Men from the Perez-era Titans, DC’s gradual rebuilding of its universe continues to gather steam.

The Screening Room: Recently Viewed

My retreat from reality continues:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – I’m no doubt the first person in history to watch this film because of its Days of Our Lives cameo (thanks Tom), but am I ever glad I finally did. This film really is as special as its reputation would have us believe. Spielberg’s obsession with “family” has become increasingly grating over the years, but it is charming and even moving in this film. The unearthly little boy who just wants to see his alien playmates captures something so authentic about childhood that it makes you ache, and Richard Dreyfus is surprisingly good as the UFO-witnessing father (if you're a sentimental slob like me, the mashed potato scene where he says “I guess you’ve all noticed that there’s something strange with dad” might actually make you blubber like a little kid). Moreover, the film makes storytelling-choices about his relationship with his family and with fellow witness Melinda Dillon that reminded me how conservative Spielberg has since become on this topic. The real treat, though, are the memorable, spectacular images of the mothership rising above the butte, of the light through the keyhole, of the little boy opening the door, of Richard Dreyfus surrounded by the childlike aliens… All of this is infinitely better than the more commercial version of these tropes in E.T. (1982). In a lot of ways, Close Encounters felt like “pure” cinema: the entire plot turns on the issue of seeing something that isn’t just magical-seeming, but something actually made of light and sound. And does it ever deliver. Maybe I’m just tapped out on the virtual datascapes of CGI, but the visual lighting effects in this film are as sublime as anything I’ve seen on screen in the last 20 years. Magic.

The Keep (1983) – I cannot convey to you how strange a viewing experience this was. Directed and adapted for screen by Michael Mann, with a youngish Ian McKellen and Lance Henrickson look-alike Scott Glenn in starring roles, this movie about Nazis who unleash an ancient supernatural being from a Romanian Keep looked like fun. (It’s also based on a novel by horror-scribe F. Paul Wilson, whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past.) But you know there’s a problem when your patient and loving wife who is sitting through all this nonsense remarks, about halfway in, that it sort of reminds her of Xanadu (1980). She might have something there. The film is so lovingly made and flirts with such high-minded ideas that it’s hard not to feel a little protective of it. But not even Michael Mann’s stylish aesthetic sensibility can fully unify what turns out, somewhat disappointingly, to be a morality play masquerading as a horror film that is itself rather disconcertingly decked out in the garb of science fiction. (Its visual signature is glowing laser beams in fog and the climax falls just short of a full-fledged light-saber duel.) Strangest of all, though, is the unremitting eighties-electronica soundtrack by Tangerine Dream, which is perfect for the hilariously choreographed (and out-of-the-blue) sex scene between Scott Glenn’s “wanderer” and Ian McKellen’s daughter, but provides an odd accompaniment to the machinations and death-shudders of the Nazis at the ancient citadel, who seem to be caught in a misty, back-lit music video. I can’t really recommend it, but it has a certain charm.

The Substitute (1996) – Worse than you might think. Even if the equally appalling but at least entertaining Dangerous Minds (1995) has a place in your secret trunk of guilty pleasures, this reactionary tale of sensitive white Merc (Tom Berenger) who discovers his inner-Pfeiffer while stomping out a drug ring at an inner city high school is 114 minutes you will regret giving up. A distinctly mid-nineties example of ass-whooping with a bad-conscience.

X-Files (1998) – I remember the excitement leading up to this film…and the letdown when I actually saw it, even back in 1998 when my X-philia was at a fever-pitch. Some great visuals—Scully and Mulder in the beehive, for instance—but it mainly just felt like an overlong, poorly paced episode of the series. It didn’t help that the leads were strangely uncharismatic on the big screen. Hasn’t aged well.

The Matrix (1999) – This, on the other hand, has aged wonderfully. I haven’t seen the original installment since I was first caught off-guard by it in the theatre, but it’s lost none of its kicky gloss in the interim. Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith may actually improve with age. Near-perfect sci-fi.

The Transporter (2002) – Supremely silly and supremely awesome. I loved every minute of this slick, stylish adrenaline rush for fourteen-year-old boys of all ages. As nattily-attired ex-Special Forces “transporter” Frank Martin, Jason Stratham is the coolest action hero since Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne. The beautifully-choreographed fight scenes avoid the gravity-defying sublimity of the Matrix films in favor of a slower, more deliberate, more naturalistic weightlessness: Stratham moves like a sort of Gene Kelly with guns and kung-fu. The “story” (and I use the term loosely) is ostensibly the old chestnut about how a stiff, by-the-book hero’s life is turned upside down by the appearance of a beautiful girl (Qi Shu), but the pleasures of the film rest entirely on the fetishistic precision of Frank’s wardrobe, house, driving, and ass-kicking.

A History of Violence (2005) – I find it very difficult to believe that this was nominated for best adapted screenplay (much less that William Hurt was nominated for best supporting actor). Was I supposed to take this seriously? Peter Travers, Lisa Schwarzbaum, explain yourselves. The most overrated film I’ve seen in recent memory. I watched it with a similarly bewildered group of intimates and I’d relate our post-viewing evisceration, but why bother? The comments by metacritic users Lance C., Jennifer R., Mark P., Steve A., and others say it all so eloquently already. Not good.


On Blogoversaries: Double Articulation…One Year Later

Am I still here? Huh.

I’m as surprised as you are. Probably more.

You see, I’m famous for starting things and not finishing them. For flaking out at the first sign of trouble. Novels. Hobbies. Diets. Exercise regimens. I’m easily-distracted, fickle, and lazy. If I weren’t also obsessive-compulsive and a perfectionist, I probably wouldn’t be able to hold down a job, much less sustain irregular contributions to a little space on the web. And so, here it is, one year later, and Double Articulation continues to putt along, a testament to the awesome power of caffeine-fueled narcissism. And of course, to you, dear reader! When I put up that first portentous post on My Golden Age a year ago today, I harbored the secret, terrible hope that maybe as many as four or five people might read it and might find, in some small manner, that it spoke to them. And to my surprise, they did! And some of you even linked here or sent along a nice word or two.

To everyone who’s stopped by over the past year to skim through my obscure and tendentious musings, whether you’ve commented, linked, or just read, I’d like to say a very sincere thank you. Double Articulation has been a lot of fun for me—too much fun, really. Comics have long been a mainly private pleasure, so being able to spout off about them to fellow geeks and interested hangers-on has been a treat. The conversations that have developed, both here and on your own blogs, are a continued source of delight for me.

Thanks to one and all!


Ragnell said...

Happy Blogiversary, Jim!

I'm glad to see you agreed with me on WW and GL. This is the first I've heard of the Omega Men news, but it makes sense given their part in the Adam Strange mini.

Tom Bondurant said...

Happy anniversary, Jim!

Glad you liked CE3K. I saw it originally as a kid in 1977 and didn't see it again in a theater until '96, when the Special Edition was playing at our local art-house. Of course, in '96 I was hip-deep in X-Files mania and couldn't help but see Spielberg's alien-coverup-conspiracy as benign, almost naive in comparison.

It really is a beautiful film. I will only watch it at night, or in the theater, where I can try to count all the stars suspended over those sleepy plains.

Hate Filled Poster said...

"A History of Violence"

All I have to say about that movie is "Those stairs look like they would be uncomfortable."

Happy Blogiversary. If you ever decide to quit and not talk about comics I'm going to have to come find you and talk you back into it. :)

Jim Roeg said...

Thanks, ragnell! I loved your play-by-play reaction post to WW#1 - I had your "bloodcurdling [page 3] scream" in mind when I noted that I might be in a minority! :)

Thank you, Tom! It's funny that you mention seeing CE3K's conspiracies as naive relative to the X-Files. That's mainly why I've resisted seeing it for so long. But as a film about childhood and/or movies themselves...gosh. Nicely put. I have to get some star-counting in at a midnight showing sometime myself.

Jim Roeg said...

Thanks, Shane, and don't worry: despite my lazy tendencies, it looks like I'm in it for the long-haul. And about those stairs--yowch, indeed. Talk about a scene that inspires laughter, queasiness, embarrassment, and eye-rolling all at once. I hear the graphic novel was better--hard to imagine how it couldn't be!

Mark Fossen said...

Happy Blogoversary, Jim!

Do not deny yourself Runaways. It's pretty easy to get caught up with a combination of the big ol' hardcover, digests, and a few single issues. It's well worth it - it's the mopst engaging character writing going on in "The Bigs" right now.

That WW issue was fantastic, wasn't it? I just loved being played with. My initial reaction was ... "Great. Donna. I'm sure that will last. This is Hal/Az-Bats/Connor all over again." ... and sure enough, there comes Diana, and I feel confirmed.

Then I get the rug pulled out! Fantastic!

Anonymous said...

One Year! Way to go Jim!

gorjus said...

Happy anniversary, Jim! I don't always get to comment like I want to, but I always get to read. I heart DA and the work you put into it.

Anonymous said...

The only thing wrong with Matrix was the idiotic explanation for why the machines kept the humans.

Jim Roeg said...

Thanks for that recommendation, richard! I'll pick up a copy this week.

Thank you, Mark! I've only read the first itty-bitty Runaways digest but it WAS good. Methinks the whole series will be summer reading.

thomas, gorjus - thanks guys! I can't tell you how much I've appreciated your frequent and extremely generous contributions here and elsewhere.

greg - It was silly, for sure. But it didn't really bother me because it made sense within the movie's fairly standard SF riff on the symbolic relation between humans and machines (the optimistic idea that even though machines seem to have taken over our lives, they still "depend" on human beings to give them power, and thus we could overthrow the tyranny of the machines were we sufficiently motivated and organized--with "machines" representing any number of things, of course.)

Marc Burkhardt said...

I'm a newcomer to your blog, but it is consistently thought-provoking and entertaining.

Plus, you like Another World! How awesome is that?

Happy anniversary.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Jim! Wow, you want an Alpha Flight resurrection? You, my friend, are too optimistic for your own good...then again, I want a Captain Canuck resurrection, so what does that make me? Yikes.

So, only a year, and you've already stumbled across the secret underground railroad connecting comics, soap operas of the 1980s, the social construction of gender, and Jupiter Jones...that's impressive work, by cracky! Keep it up!

Jim Roeg said...

Thanks, fortress keeper - pretty awesome indeed!

And thank you plok...but be careful what you wish for!

Evan said...


I have to say that I agree with your Green Lantern review completely. Here's hoping that OYL is a turning point for the new series.

Anonymous said...

this is my first time reading your blog, and i have to say that i love it!! keep up the great on my way to pick up a wonder woman as soon as i finish typing this..and congrats on your blogging anniversary!! keep it up!!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the anniversary.

Despite its faults I feel I MUST locate and view The Keep as soon as possible. I'd never even heard of it before.

Jim Roeg said...

nobody - I'm strangely happy that someone has been enticed into tracking down The Keep. My work here is done!

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of yours. Your articles validate all the years that I've been reading comics. I'm glad somebody made them something cerebral, and onion-like. Thank you for that. I was the guy who defiantly read them in the subway on rush hour (in NYC). Never needed to justify that. Now somebody has, and I'm glad is somebody as eloquent as you.

Jim Roeg said...

Thanks for that nice comment, anon. You made my day!

Evan Waters said...

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE is a wonderfully discomforting film- it suggests that violence is innate and unavoidable, that there's only so much we can do to cover up that part of our humanity. It also raises the kinds of questions about identity and transformation that Cronenberg has dealt with many times before. It's got a punch. The last shot is devastating.