Monday, May 28, 2012

X-Factor #236 Review

X-Factor # 236 review

On to the good comics! X-Factor #236 is written by Peter David with pencils by Leonard Kirk. In it Jamie Madrox is investigating a group of superhero wannabes who keep getting killed. Pretty good story idea on it's own, however most of the issue is taken up by one big long fight scene between Shatterstar and some guy named Scattershot.

I am totally okay with this.

Hey, It's a really well done fight scene! Kirk does a great job of showing off Shatterstar's ninja warrior skills as he squares off against a much larger, much more heavily armed opponent. And, forgive me, but I just love how outrageously 90's Scattershot is. Huge guns? Check. Ponytail? Check. Weird eye marks? Check. Superfluous chest belts? Check.

I love that David has  Madrox stomp on the ground to create duplicates of himself instead of having them just appear. It's a minor thing but little details like that add a bit of spice to a characters powers and it makes me happy that someone remembers.

 There is not a whole lot for me to say except that this issue is solid. David writes Madrox as witty, the Lord Defender as a glorious tool bag and manages to keep the banter between Shatterstar and Scattershot going for most of the issue without getting stale.
Kirk's art stlye reminds me a bit of Stuart Imonnen's. The characters are all drawn lean and in a way that allows for lots of dynamic movement but without losing any detail in the process either. Everyone has a unique look that makes them instantly distinguishable and the backgrounds aren't short changed either.

I guess the plot is that Scattershot is from Mojoworld and someone is killing the pseudo heroes but honestly, I didn't read any of the previous issues so I can't tell for sure which plot elements are important and which ones aren't. All I know is that this issue was FUN and I plan to pick up the next as soon as possible.

Ultimate Comics X-Men #12 Review

Just got four new comics so that I could read them and post reviews for all you guys. I did it because I'm such a nice guy and not because I wanted comic books. I swear. It was all for you. A friend suggested that, instead of picking up Ultimate X-Men I should pick up X-Factor, because one sucked and the other was good. Thanks to the power of compromise I got them both.


Ultimate Comics X-men #12 is written by Nick Spencer, with pencils by Paco Medina. The best way to describe this comic is...frustrating. This comic is very frustrating to me. For one, It has absolutely nothing to do with the previous issue. Oh what's that? Riot at Camp Angel? Colossus murders somebody? Nimrod Sentinels take over the entire Southwestern United States?! You want to hear about that story?

Too bad.

This issue begins with Alex Summers, apparently holed up in a mental institution. Do you want to know how he got there?

Too bad.

 However we do know that he is apparently being advised by the ghost of his dead brother, Scott a.k.a Cyclops. That might have something to do with people thinking he is crazy. Then a mysterious man in a suit shows up, draining the life out of everybody who tries to stop him from freeing Alex. This mysterious man then turns Alex over to Layla Miller who apparently is the head of Roxxon Industries. 

Layla talks to her executives about acquiring the M-Serum, a super-soldier serum recently acquired by Nick Fury that creates artificial mutants. Layla and the suit guy have some dialogue where they talk about mysterious things like, "The White Hot Room" and "The Fourth" without really explaining their significance. None of which help me understand what is happening in the comic book I am currently reading.

In the end it is revealed that the mysterious man in a suit is...Mr. Sinister. Back from the dead for the second time.

So yeah. Frustrating. Spencer sets up several plot points that look like they will make up the next arc however he does so in a very vague and unclear way. Not to mention the fact that half the plot threads from the last arc haven't even been resolved yet! The villains motives remain unclear to the point where I wouldn't be sure that they were villains if one of them wasn't named MR SINISTER.

The writing and art in this book are both solid, however it feels unbelievably short. I put it down feeling unfulfilled. Trapped in an existential quandary, I felt shallow and empty, wondering what meaning or purpose my small life could have?

Then I remembered that I had three more comics to read. Instantly I felt better.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Inspired by The Ray

My last post I mentioned reading The Ray #4. It got me thinking about a lot of comic book stuff. Bear in mind this isn't a review, it's more of an editorial. As I type I've got a basic idea of what I want to say but I'm not really sure where this is going to go. So I'm just going to roll with it and I hope you will too.

Apparently, the new Ray is a Korean-American named Lucien Gates? Okay. I liked Ray Terrill but I can get behind DC adding a little diversity to the line-up, especially after Ryan Choi got the axe so that Ray Palmer could be the Atom again. I read an interview once where someone explained the need to attach minority characters to "Classic" titles. Like so.



I apologize for not being able to find the interview but the explanation given was that new characters simply don't last in the mainstream market. There are a few success stories but most of the time any title that doesn't star a character made in the 1950's has a very difficult time finding an audience. And y'know something about comic book characters made in the 1950's? Most of them are white guys.

White People: Saving the world since forever!

So the best way for a minority character of any kind to make it long term is if they are attached to one of the legacy titles.

Anyway, as I was looking around the internet for more info on the new Ray, I learned that DC also killed off Helena Bertinelli recently so the role of Huntress could be taken over by Helena Wayne. I can't help but scratch my head at DC's decision to off a character who has been around for more than 20 years and developed a strong fan base of her own just so they can replace her with a character that hasn't been seen since the Silver Age.
Now, I was never into the Huntress character and honestly, I'm not convinced she's really gone because-

a) If a character dies off-panel in a comic book there is a pretty good chance another writer will come along later and say it was "faked."
b) She was replaced by an alternate universe version of herself. In comic books that's doesn't necessarily count as being dead. I guess it's more like getting "rebooted."

But still, the decision seems weird. I'm a little worried the Ray #5 will come out and we're going to find Ray Terrill dead in a ditch somewhere. This got me thinking about what other characters have disappeared since the New 52.

Kyle Rayner, one of my personal favorites, is still ring-slinging in the New Guardians but Wally West is MIA. I loved both Connor Hawke(Green Arrow II) and Mia Dearden(Speedy II) but they don't appear to exist anymore. Neither do the two Batgirls, Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain.
During high school when I first started buying comics myself, I got really into the Teen Titans. It was during the period right after Infinite Crisis when Ravager and Kid Devil were both on the team. Then the book got really bad...and stayed that way until the New 52 happened. Now I guess Kid Devil is dead.

I want you to know that the last thing I want to do is complain about the New 52. DC wanted to reinvigorate itself and you know what? It worked. There are a ton of great books out there right now! New readers are apparently finding their way into the comic book stores and DC is selling more copies than it has in years.
This isn't meant to be a rant where I come in rant and say,"Geoff Johns is trying to kill my childhood!!"
This is just what I was thinking about today.      

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Jean Grey:Default Love Interest

As one of my first posts I talked about all the reasons I think Cyclops is awesome but it's virtually impossible to talk about Scott Summers without talking about his super heroic-other half, Jean Grey (sometimes Marvel Girl, sometimes Phoenix). Both characters have been with the X-Men since the very beginning, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were still pumping out superheroes in 1963 and their individual histories are so deeply entangled it's almost impossible to talk about one without talking about the other. This little number has been in my archive for awhile and I figured it was time to polish it up and trot it out. Please bear in mind that it is purely about personal opinion. This is important because...
            I don't like Jean Grey that much. Now I know she's got some fans and probably some haters as well but I don't fall into either camp. She's just not interesting to me  and she never has been. I've seen her in comics, in the movies, and in multiple television series. Each time I just pass right over her. Her stories typically eat up large portions of screen time yet always fail to grab me or make me care in the least bit about what happens to her.
            The only thing that keeps me from jumping full force into the "Jean Grey Haters" pool is this...I don't think it's really her fault. There are a number of reasons for this and I'll go into them below.
            See, Jean is your pretty standard, generic protagonist. First I want to lay something out. While she may be boring it is not because she's "too good" okay? Common misconception. She doesn't need a hardcore 90's style makeover to make her more "edgy" and modern. After all, the modern version of Emma Frost is really just a slightly bitchier version of Jean Grey and I find her even less interesting than the character she replaced. Jean Grey is boring because she has no personality, no defining character traits that separate her or make her unique from the rest of the team. A lot of people say Cyclops is boring but at least "uptight dick" gives you something to work with, you know? Unlikable as some readers may find him Cyclops has a personality that can be bounced off other characters to create tension or humor.
Wolverine's got a tortured past and a temper problem. Gambit has a tortured past but he's charming and roguish, Nightcrawler is fun loving and adventurous, Beast is smart but he's got the whole covered in blue fur thing working against him. Jean Grey has nothing. I tried to come up with a list to describe Jean Grey's personality and it goes like this:

1. Nice to people.
2. has Red Hair
3. Is a girl.

See? I think # 3 really sums it up, though. I've read and watched interviews with Stan Lee where he's talking about how he created the X-Men and when Marvel Girl comes up says he'd forget the character’s name or what her powers were when he had to write her. She was added in because it was decided that the team needed a woman on it to fill out the roster. She was just your stock female character armed with the bland, inoffensive personality most 1950's female characters were saddled  with. Jean Grey was just "The Team Girl." Now comics at this time were aimed at a much younger audience made up mostly of boys. Most characters, especially female, were pretty one-note so Jean's circumstance weren't particularly remarkable. However, the medium as a whole matured slowly over the years, the X-Men in particular. The characters and subject matter became more complicated, the storylines more structured as the audience they were marketed towards got older...but Jean Grey stayed the same. In the past she had a hint of the feisty, flirtatious contrast to her then boyfriend Scott's more uptight and withdrawn personality, but as time has gone by other characters have come into the field who have filled that role and did it better than she did. Rogue, Psylocke, and Emma Frost spring to mind.

            Now, some may argue and say," Maybe she started out like that but what about Phoenix?" See Chris Claremont was the man who first redefined the X-Men in the 1970's, overhauling the roster and playing with the themes after the books popularity had been steadily flagging for several years. He reinvigorated the series and many of the storylines that he introduced make up the backbone of what fans consider X-Men canon. Under Claremont, Jean Grey became "The Phoenix," gaining a significant power boost and a new costume to go with her name. Over time the "Phoenix Force" proved to be a potentially malevolent and destructive entity, a personality separate from Jean Grey's. This created tension in the character as she struggled to restrain the violent impulses of the cosmic being living inside her mind. At the same time the famous love triangle was introduced between Jean Grey, Wolverine, and Cyclops, cranking up the tension in her personal life. Later on Jean got brainwashed, became evil, killed an entire planet, died and then came back to life. These are the acts that have come to define the character of Jean Grey in modern comics and other adaptations.
            That’s pretty dramatic right? Lots of emotion and intrigue in those storylines. So maybe Jean Grey isn't boring after all right?

           Nope. Don't get me wrong, those storylines are awesome...but Jean Grey as a character is still boring. I think Jean Grey is a character that stuff happens to. People fall in love with her. Evil cosmic beings take over her body. People she loves get killed. Things happen to her and she reacts and it's good for a couple storylines but in the end the issue gets resolved and then there's nothing left for the character to fall back on. She is affected and influenced by the stories of those around her but she has no core of her own. She's just there, hanging around the X-Mansion. Being pretty.
            Why do you think the same "stuff" keeps happening to her? She keeps losing the Phoenix Force, she keeps getting it back. She keeps dying. She's been bouncing back and forth between Cyclops and Wolverine for the last three decades, never really figuring out who she "truly loves" despite marrying and having a kid with one half of the love triangle(one third?) ages ago. The character has been stuck on repeat ever since the Dark Phoenix Saga in 1970. Writers can't figure out how to tell new stories with the Jean so they either rehash the same ones...or just KILL HER. I've watched her in the X-Men movies, I've watched her in X-Men The Animate Series, X-Men Evolution, and Wolverine and the X-Men. In each example I can't for the life of me care about the characters struggles or conflicts because I've seen this story a hundred times before! I know how it ends.
            Now it looks like Marvel is gearing up for a return of Jean Grey, after leaving her dead for a surprisingly long time. Despite this rant and my generally low opinion of the current X-Men titles I'm actually kind of excited for this. Maybe this will be the year someone finally writes a story that makes me care about Jean Grey. The lady just needs someone who really cares about her, y' know? :)
After all, I've always been of the opinion that any character can be interesting in the hands of a talented writer. Any character that is...except for Longshot.
Longshot can never be cool.

 So what do you guys think? What are your opinions of Jean Grey? Have I enraged anyone with my completely inaccurate analysis of the character?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Marvel's The Avengers: Reviewed

A day late and a dollar short. I had intended to see this movie at its release on Friday night so I could have a review as soon as possible. Because, why would anyone read a review of a movie everyone has seen already? But I got sick and had to put it off till Sunday evening, returning home and passing out in bed immediately. But, better late then never, right?

This multi-franchise monolith made new box office records last  weekend. According to the New York Times it made $200.3 million in North America alone.

So...yeah, people seem to think it's a pretty good movie. I think it's pretty good too. Speaking as a red blooded, American male, I like me some explosions and I like me some awesome fight scenes.  The Avengers has these things in spades. To it's credit it also has a coherent plot and some very good writing. I was a little unsure about the movie, even up to the point where I sat my butt down in the theater with a bag of popcorn. I just couldn't see four different franchises being meshed together into one film effectively.

But they did.

Don't get me wrong, the movie starts out on wobbly feet and for the first twenty minutes or so I couldn't decide if I thought it was going to flop or not.
First the movie has to do all the standard blockbuster stuff, establish the threat, introduce all the characters, get them together ect. ect. But once the movie gets all that out of the way it really picks up speed.

Naturally, every character gets their own fight scene, but in addition every character gets a moment that is all about them. We get to see who Thor is, what he's about and more importantly why he's trying to save the world. This is a big deal if you want anyone other than fanboys like me to watch the movie. These scenes are all well written, though it was kind of annoying that all these "character moments" are set up in one big block so that by the time we get to Black Widow it's staring to feel a little corny. But then we get back into the swing of things. The film does a good job of putting it's heroes in situations that challenge them, cranking up the tension by highlighting their vulnerabilities and pointing out that they are not invincible.
And of course,the movie ends with a massive action sequence that can only be described as pure,unfiltered awesome.

Were there flaws? Sure. For the first half of the movie Loki felt a little off to me. The great thing about Loki is that he is one of those smart villains. So when he just sort of shows up and starts blasting people it seemed very out of character and kind of cartoonishly evil. But this is explained later on and eventually Loki gets a chance to really let his trickster side shine.
Likewise, Black Widow didn't really connect with me. I'm sure Scarlet Johansson is a talented actress but I don't think she plays a very convincing hard ass. As the character loosens up a little, though, the actress actually seems like she starts to have fun with the role so that by the end I warmed up to the character.
The villains could be more fleshed out. Why do they want to conquer Earth?Are they bugs or robots? What is they're species called again?

Still, considering the obstacles standing in it's way The Avengers movie gets way more right than it gets wrong. The movie is a whole lot of fun and well worth the price of admission.If you haven't see it already, you should go. If you have seen it then you should tell me what you thought in the comments section below.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Fox Sister Review

 Well, that didn't take nearly as much time as I thought it would. Read through the archive of The Fox Sister and I'm ready to post my response/ review.

First though, plot summary. Fox Sister is a fantasy/horror story set in South Korea during the Korean War. It's main character? Yun Hee, a local girl who watched her family die at the hands of the Kuhimo. A Kuhimo is a sort of demonic fox from Korean folklore that likes to kill people and then steals their bodies. Now Yun Hee is grown up and out for revenge, hunting down the demon that is wreaking havoc disguised as her older sister.

The Fox Sister is a good comic. Christina Strains dialogue is sparse and to the point, relying mostly on the art to tell the story...and the art is very good. It's expressive and colorful and does a great job of setting the right tone for the right sequence.

I love the concept of the villain, an old world fairytale stalking just around the edges of a modern world. It's very urban fantasy, a genre that doesn't get a lot of play in America. The Kumiho is a blend of classic monster movie villain, femme fatale and serial killer.

So the Fox Sister is a good comic. Very professional work.The next question is, do I like it  personally?
 .....ehhhhh. I can't help but feel like the series could be sped up a bit. Maybe it's just the whole web comic format, where I can plow through an entire archive in a single night...but we're about 51 pages in to the story and I don't feel like a whole lot has actually happened. The central conflict is the main character vs the Kumiho, right? So far though, the main character hasn't even realized that she's in the same town as her target.

In the middle of the Kumiho/ Yun Hee conflict there is this guy Alex, an American soldier stationed in Korea. He's trying to endear himself to Yun Hee and she rebuffs him because that's kind of her deal. Meanwhile we see the Kuhimo lurking at the edges. Why is she hanging around Alex so much? I don't know yet. Okay, I can guess that she wants to kill him and eat his liver, but if Yun Hee just blew into town yesterday why hasn't the Kumiho already turned this guy into kibble and bits? If this is actually an important plot point it should have come up by now.

This is just my knee jerk reaction. I don't read a lot of manga or horror comics and maybe they have a slower burn than I'm used to. Maybe if I bought a physical copy I would feel different about the pacing. But right now I'm looking at that page count and it seems like after 51 pages there should be a bit more pay off.

     The comic will probably have a lot more appeal for fans of manga. If it sounds like your kind of thing then check it out. And if it doesn't... then hell, check it out anyway. The web is great because it allows series that would have a hard time breaking into the mainstream, which is dominated by dudes in capes, to find an audience and diversify the field . I'm going to hang around for a couple weeks and see if the Fox Sister changes my mind.  

Find the comic here see what you think.