The Week In Ink: October 29, 2008

Boo!

 

 

Yes, by the time you read this, Halloween will be in full effect, but since it’s Thursday night now–though the midnight hour is indeed close at hand–that means it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Diabolical Comics Reviews to separate the tricks from the treats!

Here’s what I picked up this week…

 

 

…and here’s what I thought about ‘em!

 


 

Comics

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1: Those of you who obsessively track my comics purchases may have noticed that last week’s issue of Amazing Spider-Man was the first one since Brand New Day began that I’ve skipped out on, and since someone asked about it, I figure this is as good a place as any to discuss.

So here’s the short version on Amazing #574: I might be judging the issue a little harshly since it was the return of Marc Guggenheim after the hoot that was Dan Slott and John Romita Jr’s “New Ways To Die” (because come on, Anti-Venom? That’s hilarious!), but the fact of the matter is that Flash Thompson never needs to appear again. As much as I’m a guy who spends a lot of his time looking backwards and celebrating pieces of comics that have fallen by the wayside over the years, I recognize that there are things that have outlived their usefulness, and brother, he’s one of them. He exists solely as the counterpoint to a teenage Peter Parker, the school bully who frustrates Peter with his hero-worship of Spider-Man, and then matures along with Peter and grows to accept him as Our Hero becomes more comfortable with himself. That’s it, and while it essentially maks him the male Lois Lane, it is his entire function as a character, and the more he’s removed from that specific idiom, the more ridiculous he gets.

Seriously, look at what’s happened to the character in the past few years, a litany of plot twists that reads like they were written with a sledgehammer: He gets injured in a car crash because, having missed that episode of Saved By The Bell, he was driving drunk. Then he gets liquored up by the Green Goblin and gets in another crash, coming out this time as a catatonic albatross to be hung around Peter’s neck. Then he makes a miraculous recovery that somehow also leaves him a partial amnesiac who once again reprises the role of a high school bully which… Really? They might as well have just written “HERE WE GO AGAIN!” at the bottom of that page. And now, in a callback to when Stan Lee shipped him off to Vietnam that works as the ultimate in subtle commentary, he’s an injured Iraq War veteran, which makes him Capital-R RELEVANT.

Not to get too deep into this–or at least, any deeper than I already am–but that’s pretty much the opposite of what I want to see in the comics. Using a fictional character that has been plugged into what appear to be completely random stories as a cipher to represent the sacrifice of American soldiers in a real-life war–in a story where the message is that their acts are directly inspired by fictional characters in an oroborous of heroism–is the kind of thing that takes great skill to pull off, and when you’ve got a fucking premature ejaculation joke on page four (because his name is FLASH, get it?! Ha ha! That’s edgy!), I think we can all agree that “skill” is not the primary focus here.

So no, I didn’t much care for it.

Anyway, onto this week’s Annual, and I’ll warn those of you who are already nodding off after 550 words about Flash Thompson: I didn’t care for this one either. This time, though, the reasoning’s a little easier to explain.

One of the things that gets on my nerves in storytelling–not just in comics, but storytelling in general–is when something’s presented as a mystery when it’s really not. See, there’s a difference between being a mystery and just being mysterious, and when you’re dealing with the former, it presents a problem–and this is the important part–that can be solved. A mystery, such as asking “Who is Jackpot” and then offering up “clues” such as the simultaneous introduction of another beautiful redhead with an interest in crime fighting, should make sense in retrospect once the big reveal’s been made. But with this issue, that’s not what happens. Who is Jackpot? Oh, she’s just some girl. Some girl who apparently looks enough like Mary Jane that Peter–who, if you’ll remember, was in a “civil union” with MJ for a while–is fooled into thinking that it’s her. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t necessarily want Jackpot to be Mary Jane or Carlie, but if there’s a mystery here, it’s one that doesn’t play fair and relies too much on entirely unnecessary red herrings and a deus ex machina ending that makes me care even less than when we started.

To be fair, though, the artwork is fantastic.

 

Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch: Considering that this is the first Hellboy story to be written and drawn by Mike Mignola in something like 26 years, I think it’s safe to say that expectations were running pretty high, and… Well, this is the kind of book that meets your expectations exactly, and that’s sort of the problem.

Make no mistake, this is not a bad comic, but In the Chapel of Moloch reads like a Greatest Hits album: It’s everything you want to see from a Hellboy story–from creepy villains and two-fisted monster-fighting to Hellboy’s laconic dialogue and Mignola’s beautiful art–but by the same token, it’s everything we’ve already seen in other stories, only this time around it’s all done by the numbers, which makes it, by Hellboy standards, pretty unremarkable.

That said, an unremarkable Hellboy comic by Mike Mignola is still a Hellboy comic by Mike Mignola, and it’s worth picking up, even for a die-hard fan like me. If you’re new to the character, however, I imagine this one’ll make a nice place to jump on and test the waters to get a good picture of the entire series in miniature. Just keep in mind that there are other, better Hellboy stories that may or may not involve the title character punching the living heck out of a Goddamn Nazi Frankenstein Monkey. Just sayin’.

 

Incredible Hercules #122: I’ll talk more about this when I get to the hardcover below, but just so you don’t think it’s all negative around here, I just wanted to point out that this issue contains this panel…

 

 

…and may therefore be the greatest Marvel comic on the stands.

 

Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #41: And speaking of the greatest Marvel comics, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this month’s MA Fantastic Four, by ISB favorites Paul Tobin and David Hahn, features none other than Devil Dinosaur, which means that, no matter how remote, Marvel Adventures Devil Dinosaur is now a possibility.

Now, I’m just going to go ahead and put this out there, Marvel: I would pay you to let me write an all ages book about a dinosaur from a volcano and his human buddy who roll around the Mesozoic Era–or the future, I’m not picky–just kicking the living crap out of cavemen and space aliens. Devil Dinosaur fights the Celestials in space. Devil Dinosaur vs. Kang. Devil Dinosaur vs. the Council of Cross-Time Moon Boys. Seriously. Don’t answer now. Think about it for a while.

I’ll wait.

 

Secret Invasion: Thor #3: I don’t know how it is for you guys, but since I usually end up reading my comics during the downtime at work, I’ll occasionally have moments where I read something and then immediately have to go tell someone about it because I just can’t keep it to myself. Today, I had one of those moments, and it went like this:

“Hah! Hey, dude, did you read this?”

“Yeah.”

“They dropped a city on her.”

“Yes.”

“Like, the whole thing. They dropped a GOD-City on a Super-Skrull.”

“Yes.”

“Man, I love comic books.”

And I do, mostly because guys like Matt Fraction and Doug Braithwaite are ensuring that they’re a medium in which I can see the God of Thunder and his pal the Space Horse do something so awesome that Volstagg–whom I remind you is the Lion of Asgard–has to step in and break it down for everybody. Not since Thor hit Hercules with the island of Manhattan has the use of a city as a weapon been so thrilling.

 

Trades

 

ISB BEST OF THE WEEK

 

 

Empowered v.4: Ever since it first hit shelves last year, I’ve been pretty vocal in my support of Adam Warren’s bondage-heavy sexy super-hero shennanigans, so to avoid repeating myself–and since I’ve already blown whatever claim I had to brevity with my novella-length complaints about Spider-Man up at the top of the post–just assume that I said all that stuff again here, pointed out that this volume featured something of a tonal shift towards more long-form stories and more (relatively) Serious Drama along with a guy whose arms and legs had been replaced with katanas, and then reassured you that yes, you really oughtta buy this.

If only to see the Goddamn Maid Man, who may in fact be the Sensational Character Find of 2008.

 

Incredible Hercules: Secret Invasion HC: I’ve gone on at length about my affection for Incredible Herc–in fact, I’ve mentioned it in this very post–but the fact remains that it is probably the single best comic being put out by Marvel today. And considering that they also put out stuff like Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil, Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man and Jeff Parker’s Age of the Sentry, I think that’s saying something.

Still, even stacked up against those, I find that it’s Hercules that I tend to look forward to the most every time it comes out, and while the current story’s knocking it right out of the park, it’s this one that really sets the tone. One of the more interesting things for me as a reader is seeing what various creators do when they take part in a crossover, and like the best writers before them, Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente use the conceit of Secret Invasion to springboard into something entirely more grand, sending a group of gods that includes a Jack Kirby creation, a member of Alpha Flight and the Japanese god of evil who speaks only in haiku to fight the Skrull Gods for the fate of the Earth.

Like I’ve said before, it’s downright Simonsonian, with a mix of action, comedy and adventure that’s darn near perfect. So if you haven’t, give it a read. It’s worth it.

 


 

And that’s the week. As always, any questions, such as whether Harold Sipe and Hector Casanova’s Screamland makes for an excellent Halloween read (yes) or if I’ll ever be able to stop saying “Nick Fury 2099 is right, Ghost Rider 2099!” (no) can be left in the comments section below.

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Spooktoberfest Special: The Greatest Horror Comic Ever

Ever since the heyday of EC back in the fifties, comics have had a pretty solid relationship–Wertham aside–with the horror genre, and as we enter the final stretch to Halloween, my thoughts have fallen onto the high points of the genre.

Whether it’s the historically inspired chills of From Hell or Torso, the thrills of action-horror like Hellboy, the genuine creepiness of Japanese titles like Mail, or a dozen others, horror comics have given us some amazing reads. But there’s one thing that blows them all away.

I am referring, of course, to this:

 

Dr. McNinja #8: Revenge of the Hundred Dead Ninja

 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, I’ll sum up: The Adventures of Dr. McNinja is a webcomic about a doctor who is also a ninja, and is thus torn between his desire to heal and his need to kill. As you might expect from the title, he has adventures along with his gorilla receptionist, Judy, and his sidekick, a twelve year-old gunslinger named Gordito who grew a handlebar moustache through sheer force of will. It is also the greatest thing ever.

Seriously, at this point, words can’t really capture the way I feel about what Christopher Hastings, Kent Archer and Carly Monardo are doing over there, but rest assured that my heart has developed boners for it, mostly thanks to things like this:

 

 

King Radical. The most radical man in the radical land. I don’t think I’m overselling things here when I say that as far as achievements in sequential art go, The Adventures of Dr. McNinja makes Watchmen look like bullshit.

But anyway, back to “Revenge of the Hundred Dead Ninja.”

Under normal circumstances, I’d offer up a more detailed summary, but since you can just head over there to read the entire series for yourself, I’ll just hit the highlights. All you really need to know is that in the previous story–which has the amazing title of “D.A.R.E. to Resist Ninja Drugs and Ninja Violence”–Dr. McNinja ended up killing a bunch of guys who were jacked up on drugs that gave them artificial ninja abilities. And in this story, they come back from the dead.

With a zombie clone of Ben Franklin.

To breakdance.

 

 

Okay, so technically I think that’s actually popping and locking, and even more technically, that only happens in a dream sequence, but the part about the ninjas (and Ben Franklin’s clone) coming back from the dead?

 

 

Fortunately, Cumberland–under the direction of their ex-astronaut mayor–has a plan in place for just such an occurrence: Dr. McNinja will kill them all, a process that involves a gorilla ramping over a pile of flaming automobiles in a 2007 Honda Accord while the Doctor holds onto a grappling line.

 

 

Clearly, this is the single greatest use of the undead in modern fiction.

At least until #8, where Dr. McNinja fights Dracula.

On the moon.

FOR REAL.

 

 


 

BONUS FEATURE: Dr. McNinja Answers the Hard Questions

 

 

So awesome. So, so awesome.

Spooktoberfest Special: The World’s Finest Guide to the Supernatural

As anyone who’s ever picked up a comic book where someone is actually a skeleton knows, the border between the mortal world and the supernatural is at its thinnest on Halloween. So if you’re out this weekend at around, say, twelve o’clock–The Witching Hour–and find yourself faced with creatures out to terrorize y’all’s neighborhood, don’t panic! The ISB is here to offer simple safety tips from your pals in the Justice League.

Just follow the example of one of the following heroes, and you’ll be sure to have a frighteningly safe Spooktoberfest:

 

Superman Says:

When faced with a supernatural enemy, try to figure out its natural weakness! For example, many evil creatures cannot stand the light:

 

 

 

Thus, simply use your phenomenal powers of Super-Glass-Blowing and Super-Tungsten-Filament-Crafting to make a gigantic light bulb and scare the monsters away.

 

Batman Says:

 

 

HIT IT UNTIL IT DIES.

 

More tips for safe living, including what to do when you need to fake your death and get your friend to pretend to be your ghost for a few days, can be found in Showcase Presents World’s Finest v.2.

Spooktoberfest Special: Comes the Fearful Cry…

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

 

THE COBRALALALALALALANTERN!

 

Yes, when this year’s trick or treaters arrive at Casa Del Sims for a handful of peanut butter cups and the Peanuts Halloween Ashcan, they’re going to be greeted by the Jack-o-Viper!

Long-time readers might recall that I’ve been trying to do something a little different with my pumpkin each year (usually with the aid of Homestar Runner stencils, which gave us last year’s Bear Shark O’Lantern), and for those of you who are way too interested in how I celebrate my holidays, this year marks the first time I’ve carved one without a stencil since I stopped doing the traditional face. Instead, I found a good image of the Cobra logo, copied it onto a legal pad, and then drew it freehand on the pumpkin before carving it out.

A pumpkin, incidentally, is not quite as easy to draw on as a legal pad, which probably explains a lot.

Still, I don’t think it turned out half bad, and if it helps in some small way to finally get that Charleston Chew Dominator up and running, it’ll all be worth it.

Spooktoberfest Special: What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse!

Some of you may have noticed that while my previous focus during Spooktoberfest has been directed towards more witchity matters, this year’s had a pretty heavy emphasis on vampires. From Hellsing to Tomb of Dracula, from Becky Burdock to the Man From Transilvane, things have been downright Nosferatish around here all month, and believe it or not, there’s a reason for that.

Along with carving the Jack O’Lantern and plotting to get my Christmas tree up as early as is socially acceptable, one of my Halloween traditions is a marathon play-through of the greatest side-scrolling, platform-jumping, vampire-whipping video game saga of all time: Castlevania.

Of course, given that the original NES title spawned something like eight thousand sequels, I don’t play through all of them, but with the classic Symphony of the Night available for PSP and XBox Live and the best generation of Castlevania happening on the current generation of handhelds (largely because they’ve been using SOTN as the blueprint to build on since the GameBoy Advance), there was more than enough to keep me busy in the run-up to this month’s release of the latest title, Order of Ecclesia.

But sadly, like so many things I love, their brief union with the world of comics was… well, not very good.

 

 

Released with a resounding thud in 2005, IDW’s Castlevania: The Belmont Legacy came courtesy of Marc Andreyko (of DC’s Manhunter) and E.J. Su (of TechJacket), and I think it’s safe to say that it’s not their best work. Which, when you think about it, is pretty odd.

Admittedly, licensed horror comics based around video games probably aren’t going to be anyone’s ticket to the Eisner Awards, but when you consider just how much there is to work with in Castlevania, owing to its firm roots in Nintendo Logic, it’s surprising that they didn’t just go all out with it. I mean, this is a series that had to have an entire game built around explaining why the main character fights Dracula with a whip (aside from the fact that it was easier to draw a straight line of pixels than anything else, and the kids love Indiana Jones anyway), so trust me, there’s plenty there to explore.

Me, I would’ve gone for Castlevania III in an attempt to explain how a vampire hunter, a pirate and a witch hooked up with Dracula’s kid in the first place, but instead, Andreyko tells the story of Christopher Belmont:

 

 

As the protagonist of the GameBoy titles, Christopher’s probably the least-known hero of the series, which makes him a pretty strange choice to build a series around, but that also means that he’s a essentially a blank slate. Plus, he’s got one of the best titles of the series, Belmont’s Revenge, from back when everything had to involve Symphonies and Arias and Harmonies and Rondos and the Cha-Cha of the Damned or whatever. And yes: You do see his sex face. So really, everything should be good to go, except for one glaring problem.

There is no Goddamn castle in this story.

Okay, well, that’s an exaggeration. There is a castle, but Christopher’s only in it for a grand total of three pages, and everything of any importance takes place either in a village or in a cave. Seriously, dude fights Dracula in a fucking cave. Which would be fine, if this were Caveavania, but it’s not.

Look, I might be a bit of a purist here, and I’ll admit that I’m probably a little more emotionally invested in the series than the average guy, but I imagine that the target audience for a tie-in comic is going to be the same way, and there are certain things I expect to see from a Castlevania book. The series is essentially a Haunted House story writ large, and it oughtta reflect that. I want an entrance hall with zombies in it. I want someone to fight their way from the ground up to confront Dracula. I want a damn Clock Tower where you fight Death itself.

 

 

In short, I want a Castle, and considering that this thing is called Castlevania, I don’t think that’s too much to ask, now is it?!

Whoa. Sorry about that, guys. I know I get a little carried away sometimes, but c’mon: We’ve all played Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. We know how bad things can get when there’s no Castle involved.

So what do they do in lieu of looking for save points and grinding for swords in the Inverted Library? Well, considering that this thing is a five-issue mini-series, not a whole hell of a lot.

In fact, aside from a graveyard full of zombies that’s not nearly as exciting as it sounds, there’s not a lot of monster-fighting at all. Instead, the first issue is devoted mostly to Senor Belmont’s wedding to future kidnapping victim Illya, which is the source of some consternation to Lord Bartley and his daughter Sona, who will be playing the role of the Buxom Harlot this evening:

 

 

Coincidentally, that is exactly what Christopher wants, but that’s beside the point here.

With her affections are sternly rebuked and Illya going off to get hitched, Sona does what so many broken-hearted young girls have done in her situation: She goes to resurrect Dracula, the Ultimate Lord of Evil, who is once again given flesh and then steadfastly refuses to wear clothes at any point for the rest of the series:

 

 

Thus, Belmont goes off to kill Dracula, Mrs. Belmont sneaks off to help and is immediately taken hostage by the forces of evil, a couple of supporting characters whose names I didn’t catch get turned into vampires, everybody fights in a cave, and it all somehow works out okay.

Seriously, that’s it. There is even less plot here than in the original game, but it goes on for five issues without even a single Medusa Head.

And yet, it does have this.

 

 

The Dracula Fetus.

Why they put a question mark after “The End” there, the world may never know.