Comics Ate My Brain

May 24, 2007

Who’s Your Daddy? Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Filed under: star wars — Tom Bondurant @ 1:36 am
There’s an odd moment early in The Empire Strikes Back that encapsulates the halting pace of its opening scenes. It’s the last shot of Leia in the “scruffy-looking nerf-herder” exchange, right after Han gets the last word. She really looks angry, like Han’s just kicked her dog. It gives the scene a tension that probably wasn’t intended, because the exchange moves just slower than it should and Leia’s Look of Death is the capper. She seems madder there than she will later on when she lets Chewie strangle Lando.

The opening scenes play out mostly against blurry white backgrounds, giving them a kind of abstract unreality and not really grounding them. The exception is the sequence with Luke in the cave, which is dreamlike on purpose.

Everything kicks into high gear at the 20-minute mark, when Vader is introduced in a great little “big, bigger, biggest” progression. Vader was the henchman of evil bureaucrats in the previous movie, but Empire rightly capitalized on his popularity. His costume has been tweaked slightly and shined-up, so he appears even bigger and more imposing, and he is totally superbad. He wasn’t exactly middle-management last time, but here he’s the senior VP.

Han is Empire‘s other star. I don’t know whether director Irvin Kershner made a big difference, Ford was just more accustomed to the role, or some combination thereof; but Han owns every scene he’s in. He gets to do a lot, too: slapstick, seduction, swashbuckling, and points in between.

Not to say that the scenes with Luke and Yoda are somehow inferior; although prequel viewers might well think Yoda’s gone off his nut when he first appears. Yoda questioning Luke’s dedication also rings a bit hollow, considering that the Jedi are clearly best served training him. The Dagobah scenes build on the Wampa escape and transform Luke into the serene, somewhat scary character of Return of the Jedi. Whiny Luke was fun, but Spooky Luke seems more appropriate.

The raise-the-X-wing scene particularly illustrates why the Jedi recruited their padawans so young: kids don’t know that things can’t work. There are religious overtones in that too, of course, and also in the “I don’t believe it”/”That is why you fail” bit that closes the scene. However, Luke’s — I hesitate to call it “insecurity,” but there doesn’t seem to be a better word — gives him a strength of character that Anakin lacked. Anakin knew he was operating from a position of strength, and Luke’s similar chosen-one status is similar, but Luke has the advantage of not knowing how powerful he can become, and not being cocky as a result. In fact, Vader gets progressively more angry as the climactic lightsaber battle goes on. At the beginning he’s parrying Luke’s swings one-handed, but by the end he’s almost in berserker mode. Luke might be on the edge of panic, but he never gives in, and ultimately he sacrifices himself rather than join Vader.

As for Leia, aside from the aforementioned Look of Death, she has a pleasant Gillian Anderson-like quality in this movie that makes her appealing to this nerd even without the gold bikini. I keep thinking she doesn’t have any chemistry with Han, but it’s there; he’s not the only one trying to make the relationship convincing.

The movie itself does the most with its raw footage. It’s beautifully lit (by director of photography Peter Suskitzchy), with rich, warm, vibrant colors. The armor of Vader and the stormtroopers is sleek and glossy. The overall effect isn’t as immersive as the previous film, although with the small spaces of the Falcon, Yoda’s hut, and the carbon-freeze chamber, it’s almost claustrophobic at times. Its characters and vehicles really move more too, and while that might sound hard to reconcile with the “non-immersive” and “claustrophobic” comments, that’s how I see it.

For me it all comes together when Luke realizes Obi-Wan truly can’t help him, and reaches out to Leia. It’s the payoff for the end of Episode III, uniting both twins through the Force. It’s a shame the Special Edition breaks up the flow of the sequence with its shuttle landing. The Falcon moves like a ballet dancer, rolling and juking away from TIE fighters and Star Destroyers, and you just don’t interrupt that kind of thing.

But I digress. Luke spent a lot of the previous movie, and the first part of this one, being saved by other people. Although he has to call Leia to pick him off the bottom of Cloud City, he’s still being proactive. He doesn’t know (and apparently neither did Lucas, at this point) that Leia’s potentially as strong in the Force as he is, so he has no idea whether he’s broadcasting enough for her to hear. In other words, just like at the end of the last movie, he’s taking a risk and trusting the Force.

I forgot to mention in my discussion of Attack of the Clones that Anakin is perfectly willing to stay on Tatooine and not try to rescue Obi-Wan. He might not be happy about it, but he’s bound to follow orders. Instead, it’s Padme who finds the “loophole” by “forcing” Anakin to “follow” her to Geonosis. Similarly, in Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan begs Yoda not to send him to kill Anakin, but Yoda rebuffs him: Sidious is too powerful for Obi-Wan. Empire offers a combination that appears to have inspired both prequel scenes: Luke chooses for himself, despite Yoda’s protests about Vader’s power level. For me, this raises the issue of “attachments,” which I think is at the heart of the entire cycle, and about which I have already written at length. Luke’s battle with Vader doesn’t end well, but he’s still not punished for his attachments as much as Anakin was for his. Arguably, Luke’s attachments aren’t as strong as Anakin’s, but that may be splitting hairs.

Really, what can you say about Empire that hasn’t already been said? It opened up Star Wars in new and different ways, it showed that the characters and situations could flourish outside of George Lucas’ direct control, and it gave everything a new polish. Episode VI would have a lot to live up to….

Next: the big finish!

May 23, 2007

Here To Rescue You: Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope)

Filed under: star wars — Tom Bondurant @ 2:35 am
The original Star Wars doesn’t offer a lot of explanations. (Quick quiz: when’s the first time in this movie someone says the name “Skywalker?”) It gets by pretty well nevertheless, mostly by focusing on on one thing at a time. First there are spaceships, then droids, then laser battles, then a desert planet populated by wondering gnomes. We who have just watched the prequels are oriented as to time and place (i.e., about 20 years later, above Tatooine), but those just being introduced to the Galaxy Far, Far Away aren’t lost either.

The movie really commanded my attention a lot more than I thought it would. Coming out of seven hours or so of CGI, I figured the low-tech approach would make it even easier to divide my attention between screen and keyboard, but oh no — that steady focus demands to be watched, and invites careful scrutiny. It’s almost diametrically opposed to the full-to-bursting CGI backgrounds of the prequels, but it’s more captivating. The physical props themselves turn out to be a kind of silent commentary on the bygone world of the prequels. The sandcrawler’s hold especially calls to mind all those CGI robots flitting around, now humbled by substance (ooh, arty!) and tossed in a junk pile. This is a different galaxy than the one the Empire came to rule, and we’re looking at it from the bottom up.

Just noticed — the big double-sunset scene comes at about the 25-minute mark, and the movie already feels like it’s accomplished more in terms of plot advancement than at the same point in Revenge of the Sith. I lauded the latter’s opening battles yesterday, and I stand by that, but jeez, I’d forgotten how fast the original moves.

(I love the double-sunset scene. It’s one of a few that take me right back thirty years. I can feel the heat radiating up from the sand, and no matter where or when I see it, it’s always a stuffy, clear, sweet-smelling summer night.)

Things really get going once Obi-Wan shows up. Ewan McGregor was ingratiating in the role, but Alec Guinness was just such a phenomenal actor. His few lines, and the look in his eyes, after Luke mentions “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” pretty much made the prequels possible. There’s so much emotion, and such a suggestion of rich backstory, even though Guinness disavowed Star Wars later on and probably thought he was slumming at the time.

Obi-Wan lays a massive guilt trip on Luke too, even before Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen get flash-fried. Qui-Gon Jinn had his own agenda, but he didn’t put quite the persuaasive inflection into lines like “you must do what you feel is right, of course,” and “only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise.” Despite his “it’s too dangerous!” protestations, Obi-Wan also doesn’t do a lot to stop Luke from racing back to the Lars homestead. I bet even an older Obi-Wan — who’s actually just in his late 50s, according to the prequels — could have Force-pulled Luke out of the speeder cockpit if he’d wanted.

For those of you wondering how much time to allow for bathroom breaks, Han Solo shows up at the 47-minute mark. His presence, especially in the early Death Star scenes, really remind me of The Hidden Fortress. The movie slows down a little at that point, but considering that’s just after the one-hour mark, that ain’t bad. Once Han, Luke, and Chewie shoot up Cell Block 1138, and Leia enters the mix full-time, there’s no looking back. Her “who’s the professional terrorist here, anyway?” attitude is a great complement to Luke’s idealism and Han’s practicality.

It’s that combination of viewpoints which makes the original trilogy run. None of these new characters are the hypercompetents of the prequels — not yet, at least. (In fact, Artoo seems to be the only hypercompetent character to make it to Episode IV relatively unscathed.) In a sense, both trilogies are about the subversion of implacable systems. In the prequels, Palpatine and his apprentii turn the Republic into the Empire; and here, Leia and company try to turn it back.

Of course, what they’re trying to to involves constant reference to the Force. I suppose by this time it’s a rallying cry, intended to remind the Rebels of the fallen Jedi, and the Republic they represented, kind of like “Remember the Alamo.” Interestingly enough, Vader’s main allegiance in Episode IV also seems to be to the Force, as shown by his “technological terror” speech. If Anakin was all about fixing things, and playing by the rules, maybe the Force is the only thing he really believes in anymore? That sounds like a religion to me, and indeed, I think this movie is the first to call belief in the Force a “religion.” Both times the word is used, it’s derisive — the Imperial officer to Vader, and Han to Luke. Still, the Force looms unseen, waiting to be tapped, whether by Vader, Obi-Wan, or Luke. Obviously, the end of the movie gives the most play to Luke’s newfound Force skills.

To me that goes back to Qui-Gon’s “always a bigger fish” line. There has to be a bigger fish; otherwise, there’s no conflict, and therefore, no story. Battle droids sliced up by lightsabers can be fun for a while, but you can’t build a movie on it. (I say that, and the next thing I know, it’s 2010 and the big-screen version of “Gauntlet” is the big summer blockbuster to beat.) I liked the prequels well enough, most times despite their flaws, but they can’t help but have a different style. Their artifice and baroque qualities have finally been broken down by the time of this movie, and as we’ll see, this trilogy implies strongly that it won’t return. Instead, the Force seeks to reassert itself, first through Anakin/Vader, and now through Luke.

And here I thought this was going to be a simpler film. To be sure, this movie had it easier than the prequels. It only had to play off the audience’s expectations of westerns, B-movie sci-fi, serials, etc. The prequels had to a) convince viewers they were back in the GFFA, b) establish how the Republic was different from the Empire, and c) start dismantling the Republic, all while d) meeting heightened audience expectations. The prequels also didn’t have Harrison Ford.

Still, it’s fun to note how the prequels change expectations and backstories with regard to the secondary (and at least one of the primary) characters. Obi-Wan and Artoo must remember each other, and it’s hardly a coincidence that Yoda’s old pal Chewbacca is in Mos Eisley when Obi-Wan needs him. I’ve long thought that Leia was Plan A for dealing with the Rebels’ “most desperate hour” — when the time came, Bail would send her to Tatooine to pick up Obi-Wan and Luke, they’d all take out the Death Star, and then head to Dagobah for Jedi training. The way it turned out, though, Obi-Wan had to improvise, leaning hard on Plan B to blow off his aunt and uncle and come to Alderaan. It’s another broken system, isn’t it?

(Answer to the “Skywalker” question: around the 1:16 mark. “I’m Luke Skywalker — I’m here to rescue you!”)

I have to mention that it’s no exaggeration to say that Star Wars led directly to my blogging. I started writing out what came to be called “the manifesto” — prequel predictions, mainly — somewhere around 1996. That led to a brief stint with a StarWars.com fan site where the manifesto took on HTML form, which led to the TrekBBS, which led here. Star Wars was the first work which inspired fannish feelings in me, and it’s never really relinquished its hold.

Next: The Empire Strikes Back!

May 22, 2007

Scenes from the Nativity: Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Filed under: star wars — Tom Bondurant @ 2:20 am
The first 23 minutes of Revenge of the Sith are made up of very-well-managed action sequences which flow naturally into each other, leading the viewer from the great orbital Battle of Coruscant into the rescue of Palpatine and the crash of Grievous’ battleship. Anakin and Obi-Wan’s friendship is portrayed much more effectively here than in Attack of the Clones, mainly because they have moved past being master and student. They are more appealing as equals and colleagues, which of course makes the rupture of their relationship more painful.

ROTS follows its bravura opening with an unfortunate scene on Padme’s balcony which appears to confirm that bad romantic dialogue isn’t Anakin’s exclusive province. The movie slows down for several minutes of exposition after that, and the tension between Anakin and Obi-Wan rolls them back to AOTC mode.

Before going too further, I have to make up for the deficiencies in my coverage of Ewan McGregor. He’s a constant highlight of both this movie and AOTC, having taken over the viewer-guide role from Qui-Gon. The other actors all appear to have at least brief moments of fun with their roles, but McGregor seems to be the most consistently playful. Sir Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan did so much heavy lifting, especially in the original Star Wars, that it’s easy to forget the twinkle in his eye — again, especially in the original.

Even throughout the exposition, Revenge of the Sith never exactly explains its title. Obviously it’s a reference to Darth Maul’s line from Phantom Menace, and dialogue from that movie and AOTC indicates that the Republic’s formation is tied to the Jedi’s obliteration of the Sith, but piecing that together requires some attention. Palpatine’s opera-night speech to Anakin also suggests that he killed his Sith master Darth Plagueis. I take this to mean that the Sith never truly went away, just underground for a thousand years’ worth of masters and apprentii.

Speaking of which, Anakin’s eventual descent into darkness is a pretty chilling scene that presents no easy answers. Indeed, Anakin’s intervention in the Mace Windu-Palpatine battle is perfectly in keeping with his reluctance to kill Dooku at the beginning of the movie. In fact, Mace may have been close enough to his own dark-side triggers that one way or another, a Sith would have ended up ruling the Republic. That gives the scene an extra oomph which makes the movie’s apocalyptic last hour virtually inevitable.

Up to that point the movie has been a sprawling action-adventure with maybe a hint of doom, but then it takes that last turn into tragedy. The purge montage is heartbreaking, because whatever one’s feelings about the prequels as movies, the Jedi are still the good guys, and it hurts to see them cut down mercilessly. I said earlier that neither trilogy does a whole lot to convince us of the Empire’s evil, but I stand somewhat corrected: the purge, including Anakin’s butchery of the younglings, goes a long way towards fulfilling that requirement. Sith reverses Clones‘ wonderful/terrible juxtapositions very effectively.

I went into this movie thinking that it functioned better as the last movie in the series, not the end of the first half, but I think a lot of that is based on ROTS‘s final Tatooine-sunset scene. Viewing the scene in context, I think it works fairly well as the lead-in to intermission. It’s an homage, sure, but it also indicates a glimmer of hope, and that’s the point, isn’t it?

The question then becomes whether Revenge of the Sith works as well if you don’t know there will be an Episode IV. It clearly indicates a sequel’s basic outlines, with Anakin’s twins poised to fight him and Padme’s dying words that there is still good in him. Sith‘s heroes aren’t complete failures, either: by crippling Anakin, they reduced Vader’s potential power level.

A couple of final notes: Anakin turns to the Dark Side to learn powers ostensibly exclusive to it, but the end of the movie reveals that Qui-Gon has learned a similar power. This might just be covering a nitpick from Phantom Menace, but it provides a neat counterpoint. Also, I have to note that the end of the “Frankenstein’s Lab” scene is truly a moment of melodrama worthy of the great Calculon himself.

Revenge of the Sith is clearly the best of the prequels, and not just because it comes closest in spirit to the best of the originals. It builds on its predecessors, introduces the requisite number of new characters and gewgaws, and keeps everything moving. Lucas is more active with the camera than in any of the films he directed — at least, I noticed the camerawork more — but unlike, say, Attack of the Clones or even A New Hope, the camera moves actually do their job, enhancing the viewer’s involvement in the scene. This is the one prequel that tells me George Lucas actually learned something in the twenty-eight years since he directed the original Star Wars, so it’s a peculiar notion that the next movie will be the one that made it all possible.

Next: A long time ago…

May 20, 2007

Instant Army’s Gonna Get You: Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Filed under: star wars — Tom Bondurant @ 10:30 pm
Attack of the Clones starts somewhat tentatively, but it finishes well.

Actually, it’s a little strange to describe AOTC‘s opening as “tentative,” since it features the destruction of a big chrome Naboo cruiser. After that sequence, though, the movie takes what I would call a turn towards “aggressive exposition” — as you might guess, exposition with a lightsaber. Because Teen Anakin is the only character unfamiliar from Phantom Menace, the movie has to present him as both a convincing Jedi and a convincing suitor for Padme. Obviously, the Jedi side has the easier job.

It is not quite an act of faith to accept Anakin and Padme’s love, but the movie doesn’t make the best case. Anakin’s fumblings and emo tendencies can be rationalized in large part by his bizarre upbringing: child slave thrust into a seedy adult world and just as suddenly taken out of it for an adolescence filled with adventure and monastic discipline. AOTC offers viewers the first look at Jedi younglings, clearly younger than Anakin was at the start of his training, and no doubt possessed of much greater control of their emotions. With ten or so years having passed since Phantom Menace, Anakin has gone through the bulk of puberty consumed by the visions of his fantasy woman, probably waiting and hoping for the chance to see her again — but bereft of anyone else in his life who’d encourage those feelings or at least get him to work on his social skills. I daresay Anakin didn’t run the “sand” speech by Obi-Wan before putting it to the test.

Padme’s side of the relationship is harder to figure. Perhaps there’s some idealization of Anakin on her part too. He did risk his life — twice — to help her. Anakin and Obi-Wan may even represent Padme’s ideal of the Jedi role in the Republic: great power used wisely, and under the direction of the Supreme Chancellor. Padme is clearly older than Anakin, though, making it very unlikely that she would have any romantic feelings for him back then. Her physical attraction to him, together with the knowledge that as a Jedi he’s almost certainly not involved with anyone else, might have combined for the final push over the cliff.

(That’s either one of the more insightful things I have ever written, or one of the more embarrassingly clueless — U-Decide!)

In any event, they do have some chemistry, especially by the time they team up to rescue Obi-Wan. It wasn’t hard for me to believe they would be together after that point. Their secret wedding is both the movie’s logical “happy ending” and a nice cliffhanger, considering what we know about Anakin’s future. Similarly, the climactic reviewing-the-troops scene is also presented as a triumphal moment, assuming that the troops’ ultimate development is unknown to the viewer. Attack of the Clones succeeds in making its heroes’ achievements wonderful and terrible at the same time.

It also has the advantage of playing with the viewer’s reaction to Phantom Menace. The destruction of the Naboo starship is just the first step in “dirtying” TPM. Jar Jar is pushed to the background and manipulated by Palpatine, Shmi is brutalized, and Nute Gunray and Watto are tragic figures, trying to make up for their TPM failures.

The locations AOTC explores are also more rugged than Naboo: the isolated Lars farm, the lower-rent areas of Coruscant, the perpetually stormy Kamino, and the rocky wastelands of Geonosis. AOTC feels more like a Star Wars movie because Star Wars isn’t supposed to be pristine.

Most of this movie is made of action sequences, and these are all pretty entertaining. The CGI flows freely, sometimes betraying the actors’ best attempts to keep up, but on the whole the illusion is effective. In fact, the CGI camerawork occasionally seems more authentic than its human-guided counterpart. There are some impressive “handheld” CGI shots, but for the humans, the standard camera move seems to be just a slow push in on an actor’s face. This especially occurs at the beginning of the movie, and I guess it indicates “intensity.” Overall, though, the movie is put together better than Phantom Menace, and it held my interest more.

I still can’t quite accept the clonetroopers’ equipment. I can buy that an army of clones was grown over a period of ten years based on an order from an obscure Jedi whose identity was stolen, but to then have them outfitted with heretofore-unknown starships, aircraft, and ground-support vehicles, seems a bit much. I didn’t see any shipyards on Kamino, but maybe they were on the other side of the planet. Or, maybe Palpatine threw some black-budget money at one of his defense-contractor buddies ten years ago, and was just waiting for all the clones to come of age.

Doesn’t look like I’ll get to “Clone Wars,” so next up, Revenge of the Sith!

Fish Story: Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Filed under: star wars — Tom Bondurant @ 12:41 am
With the 30th anniversary of the premiere of Star Wars coming up on Friday, May 25, it’s incumbent on me as an old stooge to blog about the films this week. No promises about “Clone Wars”; we’ll just have to see how the week shakes out.

Today was The Phantom Menace, which as it happens premiered on this date eight years ago, and which I don’t think is entirely terrible. It labors under the necessities of a) laying out the Republic’s major players, b) setting up the falls of both the Republic and Anakin Skywalker, and c) being big, bombastic, and entertaining. Some sacrifices had to be made, and these are largely in the areas of dialogue, acting, and directing. Otherwise, it’s a handsome, nice-sounding movie, and it sets a decent stage.

A disclaimer before we get too much farther: I was interrupted in the early moments of TPM by a persistent telemarketer — and yes, watching the film was the better alternative — and I “rested my eyes” a couple of times during the big quadrophenic finish, but other than those things I watched it straight through with few distractions.

Phantom Menace‘s unofficial motto comes from Qui-Gon’s line “There’s always a bigger fish.” For eight years I have wondered what the sea-monster chase scenes had to do with the rest of the movie, beyond showing the Jedi calm under pressure. Watching the sequences today, and considering the bigger picture, the fish-on-fish violence seems to warn about life’s inherent unpredictability. (See also the Tusken Raiders taking potshots at the pod racers, and Empire‘s space slug.) The film suggests that the Republic runs on predictability, structure, and systems, chief among them the Senate and the Jedi Order. I’ve long thought that TPM‘s fascination with parliamentary procedure, midichlorians, and other minutiae was really criticism of such systems and the complacency they breed. Maybe that comes from watching too much Star Trek, but it seems to be a viable reading.

Thus, into these set systems come the film’s two movers and shakers, Qui-Gon Jinn and Senator Palpatine. Both know how to work their respective groups, and both are otherwise willing to use their power to steer outcomes their way. Unfortunately, I can’t quite figure out why Palpatine wants Naboo under Federation control so badly. Back when this was the only prequel, I thought Naboo had, or was, some unique resource that would allow the Sith to rule the galaxy. Watching the film today, the best explanation I could think of was that Palpatine simply wanted an excuse to force the Senate into a vote of no-confidence in Chancellor Valorum, and the obviously unfair balance of power between Naboo and the Federation would by itself provide that excuse. The more suffering the Naboo endured, the better, because the more sympathy it would engender in the Senate.

(Which, of course, reminds me of the Imperial commander’s line about Leia’s capture generating “sympathy for the Rebellion in the Senate,” but we’ll get to that….)

I suppose it’s therefore appropriate that Naboo is treated like a chessboard (somebody even says “we’ve captured the Queen!”) and we never actually see any of its people mistreated. There’s room in TPM for fart jokes and other shenanigans, but not for the horrors of an occupation force. Still, this isn’t The Battle of Algiers; and in keeping with the backhanded defenses, there’s not a lot of evidence of the Empire’s oppression later on either. As the “kids’ movie” of the bunch, Phantom Menace especially isn’t supposed to be bloody, saving the most graphic violence for the ends of Qui-Gon and Darth Maul.

Speaking of Qui-Gon, Liam Neeson might give a detached performance, but he ties the whole movie together. He’s perhaps the most plugged-in character next to Palpatine, but he also functions well as the viewer’s guide. It’s probably because his character is the most free to behave like a member of the audience, occasionally stepping outside of his assigned role to take matters into his own hands. He tries to ditch Jar Jar (understandable) until the latter leads him to Gunga City (also understandable); he tries to convince the Jedi Council that he’s found their messiah; and he does all the negotiating that drives the plot. (Palpatine and Amidala have their own roles in the plot too, but they’re not as prominent.) This is not to say that Qui-Gon acts entirely out of self-interest. Rather, his perception of the common good seems to be slightly different than what his peer group might indicate, so he influences events accordingly.

This is most obvious with regard to his discovery of Anakin. Another plot point which I thought cried out for future reference is the use of the Force with regard to the die-roll which determines Anakin’s fate. Qui-Gon could have freed your mother too, I imagined Palpatine murmuring. He did not, because he wanted you to join the Jedi — and the Jedi frown on children basking in their parents’ love…. Again, the Jedi Code is unapologetically spartan, but the movies only dwell on it with regard to romance. Interestingly enough, there’ s a hint of affection — but just a hint, per Lucas’ direction — between Qui-Gon and Shmi Skywalker, subtly reinforcing the notion that Qui-Gon doesn’t quite follow all of the Jedi dictates. Accordingly, Qui-Gon turns out to be Mr. Foreshadowing: his manipulative tendencies appear again in the older Obi-Wan, and of course his rebelliousness prefigures the attitudes of both Anakin and Luke.

Phantom Menace is loaded with foreshadowing and parallel references, the most obvious of which concern the Trade Federation. Their designs anticipate those of the Empire so much so that I imagined Palpatine engineering a “hostile takeover” of the TF to build his clone military. (As we’ll see, almost the opposite happened.) The treatment of droids sets up the later heroics of Artoo and Threepio. Whole sequences of this movie are intended to remind viewers of similar awards ceremonies, asteroid chases, and multi-front battles in the originals. I’ll never be able to speak to the experience of this being my first-ever Star Wars mvoie, but in terms of watching them all in “intended order,” the foreshadowing and the references can get pretty heavy-handed, which is a nice way of saying they occasionally don’t make much sense unless the movies are watched in release order.

Overall, this time The Phantom Menace reminded me of the first Harry Potter movie. It wants so much to remind viewers of its bona fides that it makes sure to point out when they should cheer, boo, and laugh. It proceeds in fits and starts, with the podrace as the centerpiece. At times it has so many plates spinning that there’s no room to connect with any one subplot. Still, just about every main character gets a good moment that resonates. I’m trying to think of Jar Jar’s … probably the “When yousa thinka wesa in trouble?” line, so yeah, he peaks early. It’s an overstuffed movie which invites fanwankery and continuity maintenance. I’m sure there are books, novels, and comics which explain all of the inconsistencies, and on some level I wonder if that wasn’t the point. Just as Qui-Gon falls victim to a “bigger fish,” Phantom Menace sets the stage for bigger and bigger developments in the still-complacent Galaxy Far, Far Away.

Next: Attack of the Clones!

December 10, 2006

New comics 12/6/06

I’ve already talked a little about Justice Society of America #1 (written by Geoff Johns, pencilled by Dale Eaglesham, inked by Art Thibert), but let’s begin there this week anyway. I like the idea of the Justice Society basically acting as keepers of the flame, charging the new legacy heroes with the social responsibilities of living up to their famous names. (It’s an idea similar to Kingdom Come, which explains Alex Ross’s involvement in the series.) I do like the last-page tease of upcoming storylines, and am looking forward to the JLA/JSA crossover in a few months. I like the fact that the Justice Society is positioning itself as being just as important as the Justice League, albeit for different reasons. Frankly, and I hate to sound horribly sycophantic by saying this, but Geoff Johns’ enthusiasm is pretty palpable, and you can tell he’s really putting a lot of love into this book.

However….

I thought the introduction of Mr. America came off a bit overblown, even considering the role he plays later in the issue. Maxine Hunkel’s enthusiasm was just a bit much, the secrets of the new Starman seem pretty obvious, as does the attitude of the new family member (not to mention his dad). The Rebel/Damage fight also went on a little long if the point it was making was just that Damage could stand to learn more manners. These are all personal reactions, of course, and I understand that you might feel the exact opposite. That’s fine. I suppose the hook for me buying this series would be its importance to DC-Earth as a whole, and not any investment in the characters — but if that’s my approach, it seems I’ll be missing out on about half the book every month. I’m still on the fence about #2, although I may pick up the eventual paperback.

Because the rest of the blogosphere would surely rise up as one and smite me if I didn’t, I picked up my first issue of Manhunter (#26, written by Mark Andreyko, pencilled by Javier Pina, inked by Robin Riggs), and it was pretty good. Basically Kate’s been hired to defend Wonder Woman against criminal charges brought by the federal government (for political reasons), so the whole issue is pretty much her and her staff freaking out around Wonder Woman. That’s always fun. Checking in with the book’s supporting cast requires more of a learning curve, though. Their scenes are interesting, just disconnected from everything else (or so it seems). Anyway, I’m getting #27, so you can put away the torches.

52 #31 (written by Johns, Morrison, Rucka, Waid, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Rodney Ramos, Dan Green, and Dave Meikis) would have been a lot harder to take had DC not chosen to feature its main character in his own miniseries, now on sale. Still, any villain who eats Green Lantern rings is certainly one to watch. The interlude with Supernova and Ralph has me wanting to do some detective work of my own, which will probably turn out badly but at least should be fun. The origin of Robin (Tim Drake) somehow manages to omit Jason Todd, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Finally, the Infinity, Inc. scenes still don’t do a lot for me.

Detective Comics #826 (written by Paul Dini, pencilled by Don Kramer, inked by Wayne Faucher) was strangely uninvolving, considering that it featured the Joker torturing Robin by running over Christmas shoppers in a stolen SUV. It’s not a bad idea (for a story, that is), and it certainly fits with the Joker’s satire-til-it-hurts paradigm, but the best part of the issue was the brief flashback to Bruce, Dick, and Tim comparing Joker notes during their “One Year Later” sojourn. I think the problem for me might have been too much internal monologue from Tim competing with the blackly-comedic Joker monologue. Usually the Joker’s diarrhea of the mouth is up against Batman’s stoicism, and it may have been more effective, more suspenseful, and more entertaining to wonder how Tim planned to get out of trouble rather than to “hear” his play-by-play. Kramer and Faucher draw a fine Joker though, reminiscent of Michael Lark’s (right?) in Gotham Central.

Another Robin in trouble and another internal monologue are also the focus of Nightwing #127 (written by Marv Wolfman, pencilled by Dan Jurgens, inked by Norm Rapmund). Dick gets buried alive and has to dig his way out the long way, with a busted shoulder to boot. It gives him, and us, a chance to go over the plot of the last couple of issues, which seems like it should be simple but I still can’t figure out why the battlesuit guy was killed or why we should care. Anyway, next issue should be the big finish, and maybe I’ll have gotten on board by then. As for this issue, while there wasn’t really much suspense, Wolfman does have a good handle on the internal monologue, and showed Dick getting appropriately beaten up and bloodied. Not that I’m into that, mind you — I’d like to see next issue treat our hero a little better.

I got last week’s Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #46 (written by Kurt Busiek and Karl Kesel, drawn by Butch Guice and Phil Winslade) this week. It’s a tale of Orin-Aquaman’s encounter with a younger King Shark, and while it features Mera and Vulko, it doesn’t quite feel like a classic Aquaman story. Not that a good Aquaman story requires the phrase “finny friends” or the concentric circles of marine telepathy, but I couldn’t quite connect the guy calling himself the King of Atlantis with someone probably carrying a Justice League signal device. The story itself isn’t that complicated, but it does require you to keep track of some unfamiliar names and their various motivations, and I may have to spend some more time with it.

The (All-New) Atom #6 (written by Gail Simone, pencilled by Eddy Barrows, inked by Trevor Scott) finishes the first storyline of Ryan vs. the Waiting and various other malignant forces in Ivy Town. However, while I’m sure Ryan’s solution makes sense, I still don’t understand it. Also, somebody (maybe Mr. Scott, the inker) makes everyone’s faces look awfully pinched towards the end of the issue, which results in some unfortunate near-caricatures of the Asian cast members. I didn’t dislike this issue, and I’m still on board for the future, but it wasn’t this team’s strongest effort.

Superman Confidential #2 (written by Darwyn Cooke, drawn by Tim Sale) was good, although I really don’t understand the appeal of drawing Superman as an overstuffed kid who looks like he’s flunked sixth grade a few too many times. That’s just a few panels, though, and Sale’s Lois Lane more than makes up for it. The sight of Superman vomiting up lava after thinking he might just die under a volcano is also pretty sobering.

I was looking forward to Batman Confidential #1 (written by Andy Diggle, pencilled by Whilce Portacio, inked by Richard Friend) because I thought it would feature Batman fighting giant robots and Lex Luthor. That’s apparently next issue. This one opened with a fairly familiar scene of Batman fighting gritty urban violence with, yes, his internal monologue to keep him company. Portacio and Friend draw a serviceable Batman, and their Bruce Wayne looks sufficiently young and arrogant for the story’s setting, but every now and then characters sport big raccoon-eyeshadows and their heads change shape from panel to panel. Still, I like Diggle well enough to come back next issue for the giant robots.

I was also looking forward to Welcome To Tranquility #1 (written by Gail Simone, drawn by Neil Googe) in part because its aging-superhero setting seemed like a good counterpoint to Justice Society. Instead, it’s more like Astro City, which obviously isn’t bad. Between them, Simone and Googe make the oldsters (and their younger selves) pretty endearing, like if your grandmother were a ’40s teen heroine who still thought she could fly the old plane. The issue did seem a bit scattered, though, with weird ads for the local chicken restaurant sprinkled throughout and a locked-room murder mystery that comes out of nowhere. It’s not a bad package, although it does try pretty strenuously to be quirky and that could get old (no pun intended).

Man, aging superheroes must be a motif this week, ’cause here’s Agents Of Atlas #5 (written by Jeff Parker, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Kris Justice), in which one teammate turns rogue and another’s origins are questioned. This isn’t a grim ‘n’ gritty, realistic take on forgotten ’50s characters, though, so everything works out. It’s a credit to Parker and Kirk that they’ve gotten me invested in these characters despite my utter lack of familiarity with many of them.

The same applies to Beyond! #6 (written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins), the end of which relies upon the same kind of built-from-scratch emotional investment. I hate to sound too glib, but this was a good example of old-school Marvel crossover magic that might not Mean Something to the bigger picture, but used to be Marvel’s bread and butter. I’m glad McDuffie will be writing Fantastic Four before too long.

Stay with me, folks … just a couple more.

The message of Hero Squared #4 (written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Joe Abraham) is that superhero fights are messy, something that I thought we learned a few issues ago. Still, this issue works as a standalone story, with Milo’s own heroism contrasted against Valor’s.

Finally, Star Wars: Rebellion #5 (written by Rob Williams, drawn by Brandon Badeaux), finishes this book’s first arc, many months after it was originally scheduled. Lucky for me it’s just a lot of carnage involving who will turn against the Empire and save the Rebels. It turns out about like you’d expect, but there are a couple of points of bad execution. First, there’s not a lot of distinction between Luke’s old friend Tank and the ex-Imperial spy Jorin Sol. Second, the plot hinges on the Rebel flagship going into hyperspace, requiring somebody to Push The Hyperspace Button, and this makes me wonder why the Hyperspace Button is always so hard to push. Third, all the damage the ship takes apparently doesn’t make much of a difference to the whole hyperspace question, because the book never addresses it. Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but you kind of have to expect Luke and Leia (still looking unreasonably hawt) to survive.

July 26, 2006

New comics 7/12/06 and 7/19/06

Yeah, I know, another two-weeks-at-a-time thing. Last week was a killer, though — the Best Wife Ever went to a (practically) week-long conference in Dallas and I had to make sure the house was in as good or better condition than when she left it. So far, so good. Also, we’ve got another couple of hectic weekends ahead, so between keeping an eye on San Diego over the weekend, I’ve been working on making sure the next couple of Grumpy Old Fans get done.

Since you’ve probably read most of these already, I’ll try to be brief.

THE VERY GOOD

52 #10, for Clark’s shenanigans and Lois’ reaction.

She-Hulk #9, for the priceless dinner with Jen’s future in-laws.

Hero Squared #2. This really needs to be a sitcom. If “My Name Is Earl” can be a comic, this can be a sitcom. And a comic too, of course.

Firestorm, The Nuclear Man #27. I wish I knew more creative ways to say “good, solid superhero stories” every month, because that’s the only bad thing about reading this book.

Superman #654. The only bad thing about this book is Lois’ hair, and that’s because it makes her look like Luthor’s ex The Contessa. If this is what the Busiek run is going to deliver every month, for goodness’ sake, DC, don’t let him go!

Green Lantern #12. It might be the one book I think Geoff Johns gets consistently right, but just like with Busiek, whatever he’s on when he writes it does the trick. I’m also a lot fonder of Ivan Reis than I was of Ethan van Sciver, and that’s not really a slight on the latter.

And finally, Justice League of America #0, about which I have already gushed.

THE PRETTY GOOD

52 #11. Would have been better if the DC hype factory hadn’t spoiled Batwoman’s secret identity a couple of months ago.

The (All-New) Atom #1. A fine introduction to the new guy, and more fun than his Brave New World teaser.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #43. Pieces are put together and old Aqua-characters come back as the other new guy finally decides to be Aquaman. It took Busiek a little longer to find his groove with this title, but I think it’s all starting to click.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #20. Come for the rampaging giants, stay for Brainy’s creepy Dream Girl fixation. I want to like this book more, but every month I feel like there’s more going on than I can keep up with. Paperbacks, I know; or maybe I could just find time to actually read the floppies some weekend.

THE ONE THING WAS COOL…

Green Lantern Corps #2. Less murky art would help this book. That sounds like I should get the Dave Gibbons-drawn issue in a couple months, doesn’t it? Anyway, I can’t tell which Alien Of The Week is which, but I did like the Giant Guy Construct.

Star Wars: Rebellion #4. The cliffhanger ending was cool. I can’t say much more.

JLA Classified #24. Nice spotlight on old-school Aquaman, and it is kind of fun to see Amos Fortune comfortable enough with his tub-of-goo body to squeeze it into white spandex.

THE REST

Superman/Batman #28. The new team of Mark Verheiden and Ethan van Sciver start their run with a story about J’Onn J’Onzz going nuts on Batman. Good concept, decent mystery, and no dueling narration, but somehow it just feels kind of stiff.

The Flash: Fastest Man Alive #2. I know, every dork with an Internet connection thinks he can write comics, but this Flash storyline is so predictable it’s sad. We know Griff the Annoying Roommate will be Bart’s newest supervillain. We know Bart will overcome his Speed Force trauma and his reluctant-hero stance. We know he’ll get together with the cute STAR Labs techie.

Why didn’t this book play around a little more with the mystery of who could be in the Flash suit? Why spend two issues convincing Bart to get back in harness when the two issues have been screaming he’s going to? This book could have started out with a mysterious Flash speeding through town saving people, solving crimes, etc., while leaving clues that it could be Bart, Wally, Walter West, one of Wally’s kids, Griff, or even Valerie. It would be a real mystery, because a Flash could effectively be in two places at once. We’d have gotten more Flash-action and less angst to boot, and the book could even have kept the shifting-narrator flashbacks. In fact, that could have been the “reveal” — when the narration started syncing up with the Flash’s exploits. I almost think this book is being deliberately obtuse, and still has a few surprises in it. I’m fairly sure that gives all involved too much credit, but you never know.

June 25, 2006

New comics 6/14/06 and 6/21/06

We begin by picking up a spare from June 7. Fittingly enough, I got Nextwave #5 (written by Warren Ellis, drawn by Stuart Immonen) a week late, on my mom’s birthday, June 14. I say “fittingly” because it featured teddy bears, which were the subject of a running joke between Mom and me. When I lived at home during law school, I watched TV with my parents, including “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Inevitably, Mom would see something or someone on the episode she didn’t know anything about, and would ask me what was going to happen. Since these were first-run episodes, most times I didn’t know what was going to happen, so all my answers ended up being about the planet of fuzzy teddy bears, and all the picnics and tea parties the crew would have. This satisfied my mother, who I might have mentioned has a master’s in English and is really quite sharp. Anyway, when an episode put our heroes in a tight spot, Mom would look at me rather accusingly and wonder aloud when the teddy bears were coming. (This often happened around season-finale time.)

So last week I sent her some killer-teddy-bear scans from Nextwave #5. Happy birthday, Mom!

Captain Atom: Armageddon #9 (written by Will Pfeifer, pencilled by Giuseppi Camuncoli) wrapped up the miniseries that turned out to be a big tour through the WildStorm universe, just in time to blow it all up and start over. Whoopee. Now that it’s over, maybe DC can use Cap’s rather twisted history with the U.S. military to some good effect. It’s a rich backstory which makes the character a little more than just a generic superhero, but you’d never know it from how he’s been treated pretty much since his series ended.

American Virgin #4 (written by Steven T. Seagle, drawn by Becky Cloonan) concluded the book’s first arc, but it really didn’t leave much of an impression on me, and I’m leaning towards dropping the book.

The same goes for Green Lantern Corps #1 (written by Dave Gibbons, pencilled by Patrick Gleason). I like Guy Gardner and I have always liked the Corps, but this book just isn’t doing a lot for me. I may give it a couple more issues.

It wasn’t earth-shatteringly good, but I didn’t dislike JLA Classified #22 (written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Tom Derenick, inked by Mark Farmer), which began a new arc featuring JL Detroit. Much of it recapped Steel’s origin, and a few other pages recapped the origin of the Royal Flush Gang. The rest, natcherly, was the fight between the two groups, and it wasn’t David Mamet, but it wasn’t bad either. Also, it reached a stopping point at the end of the issue, which was nice. Derenick’s pencils were better than in his last JLA arc, although again nothing groundbreaking.

Firestorm #26 (written by Stuart Moore, pencilled by Jamal Igle, inked by Keith Champagne) was also a fairly intriguing issue centered around a super-hero fight, as Firestorm and Firehawk take on a new villain who’s torturing Martin Stein. It all has to do with the nature of Firestorm, apparently, and the strange bond Jason and Lorraine have forged since “One Year Later.” Fun stuff.

You know by now that 52 #6 (written by Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Ruy Jose) introduced the Great Ten and Rip Hunter’s “Lost” Blackboard, and you’ve probably already formed your opinions on both, so I’ll just say it was fascinating to see how the book could pay so much attention to its four mainstays’ plots while still herding them all towards some inexorable common destiny. Also, it managed to put the Green Lanterns, who are so far the highest-profile heroes who could appear in the book (with the Big Three, Aquaman, and the Flash off the table), on the same level as those supposed C-list mainstays. The GLs don’t feel like guest-stars, but neither do they take over the book. Entirely appropriate for a book that purports to be a window on the world.

Superman #653 (written by Kurt Busiek and Geoff Johns, drawn by Pete Woods) was the big throw-down between Superman and Luthor (in the hijacked Kryptonian battle-mech), and it didn’t disappoint. Of course, given the nature of this storyline, the cliffhanger ending the issue wasn’t very suspenseful, just funny. Jimmy Olsen gets a good scene, Supes and Luthor both have some good “But I am also left-handed!” moments, and from the previews I read on Newsarama earlier this week, the conclusion should be just as good.

Of course, Jimmy — or, I should say, his Cojo-influenced All-Star interpretation — is the focus of this week’s All-Star Superman #4 (written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely), which combines the goofy sitcommery of bumbling through being Superman’s Pal with a couple of shots at “big event” comics past and present. As Mark Fossen points out, Jimmy gets to be All-Star Vicki Vale, and later on turns into Doomsday. This never fails to be an entertaining series.

I think I’m done with Robin after #151 (written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Freddie E. Williams II), not because it’s poorly executed, or because the latest developments have repulsed me, but it just hasn’t drawn me in.

At the other end of the spectrum is The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1 (written by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, drawn by Ken Lashley), which did a lot to turn me off. First is its apparent baton-passing to Bart Allen, which I think is unnecessary. Second, it both devotes a lot of space to bringing everyone up to speed on Flash history, but then plops Bart into an entirely new situation, kind of like dropping Captain Atom into the WildStorm dimension. The exposition slows the book, and the new stuff seems barely sketched in. Bart now has a repellent “duuude!” roommate and works at the Keystone auto factory, because he’s aged completely out of his teenage years. Never mind that, as originally conceived, he was a developing brain in an outsize body. Combined with the maturity Geoff Johns thrust upon him (this makes twice), he’s just your average 20-year-old now, which makes him a lot less interesting. I’m waiting to see who ends up with the Infantino suit, but if it’s still Bart in this form, I’ll wait until the next creative team.

Lashley also pencils 52 #7 (written by Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny, inked by Draxhall), featuring Ralph Dibny played by Josh Holloway and sporting some ill-advised facial hair. His pencils look a lot better here than they do in the Flash book, which may have something to do with Keith Giffen’s layouts. Anyway, Booster gets his from Manthrax and Ralph, and Montoya meets DC’s most famous lesbian. The Booster/Ralph stuff is pretty good, and the Montoya/Kate Kane scenes aren’t bad, except for one panel which seems like it could be either wishful thinking or a flashback, but is presented as reality. It’s all better than the History of the DCU backup, though, which does nothing to make Zero Hour comprehensible, and in its few pages even makes it less so. I think its facts are wrong too, although that could just be more retconning.

I probably read Checkmate #3 (written by Greg Rucka, pencilled by Cliff Richards, inked by Bob Wiacek) too quickly. Either that or it’s hard to summarize all the politics and maneuvering in a few sentences. It’s still a good read, and I should get more out of it the second time around.

Superman/Batman #27 (written by Mark Verheiden, drawn by Kevin Maguire) was decent enough until the end, which tries to shoehorn it into modern DC continuity. It’s really about the Earth-2 Power Girl and Huntress trying to save their “dads” from old foes, and on that level it’s enjoyable enough. In fact, Maguire gives Huntress more cleavage exposure than Power Girl, which may be a first. However, the big dramatic reveal turns on a bit of Earth-2 continuity I had forgotten, and which isn’t quite set up as well as it could have been. It doesn’t amount to anything very substantial, I guess, but it’s competently done.

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6 (by Joe Kubert) concluded the miniseries rather quietly, if such a thing is possible after an issue full of urban Nazi-fighting. I’ll have to read this all in one sitting, although it may play better as a series of episodes than as one story. If it has tested the waters for a Rock ongoing, I’d be on board for that.

Star Wars: Rebellion #3 (written by Rob Williams, drawn by Michael Lacombe) continues the dual double-agent plotlines carried over from the old Empire series. At least I think it does; the plots are kind of confusing after a while, and anybody who doesn’t look like Mark Hamill or Katee Sackhoff is hard to pick out of a crowd. The art on this series is a little uglier than it was on SW:E, and that doesn’t do the book any favors. I’m getting this because it offers classic Skywalker action, so that should buy it a few more issues at least.

Much of Captain America #19 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) continued the waterfront fight from last issue, doing so in fine fashion. The rest was spy-type intrigue, with Sharon Carter showing up in London to take over operations. Art was a little confusing this issue, with Sharon looking like Spitfire and Cap looking like Master Man, but it wasn’t too hard to figure out in context. Overall it was a good second act, and this London storyline has a lot of potential.

Finally, I got the Giant-Size Hulk special, although it was for the two Peter David-written stories and not for the “Planet Hulk” tie-in. Accordingly, I was happy — David’s excellent Hulk: The End extra-long special (art by Dale Keown) was reprinted here, and he also contributed a light and fluffy Champions vs. Hulk tale (pencilled by Juan Santacruz, inked by Raul Fernandez). The latter was clearly to prime Marvelites for a new Champions series, but I don’t particularly care about that — I was just glad to see a staple of ’70s Marvel revisited and given the respect it probably deserves. The middle story (written by Greg Pak, drawn by Aaron Lopresti and Danny Miki) was a good complement to The End, although I suspect it meant more to those who’ve been following the Hulk more recently; and it probably didn’t advance “Planet Hulk” much. Still, this is over 70 pages of story for $4.99 US, and thus a bargain.

June 14, 2006

New comics 6/7/06

Filed under: 52, batman, fantastic four, star wars, superman, weekly roundups, wonder woman — Tom Bondurant @ 12:40 am
The best part of 52 #5 (written by Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, breakdowns by Keith Giffen, pencils by Chris Batista, inks by Jimmy Palmiotti) was the end, seeing that (SPOILER!) Animal Man, Starfire, and Adam Strange had survived the big cosmic burp which Mixmastered everybody else. The rest of it was more … I don’t know, creepy. Certainly not suspenseful, since we know Hawkgirl gets back to normal size, Firestorm gets separated from Cyborg, and Alan Scott doesn’t get the eye back. Chris Batista’s on board for four issues, I presume, and by and large his stuff here isn’t as good as his JLA issues of last summer, but it’s still decent. Maybe I had just gotten used to Joe Bennett. Anyway, check out the Montoya/Sawyer pages — doesn’t it look like Giffen went ahead and finished his pencils? Weird.

I was looking forward to some ramped-up action in the penultimate chapter of “Face The Face” (in Detective Comics #820; written by James Robinson, pencilled by Leonard Kirk, inked by Andy Clarke), and I got it, even if solving the book’s central mystery seemed almost like an afterthought. I guess this storyline is more about re-establishing the OYL status quo than being a standalone Batman & Robin adventure, and that’s fine (certainly the Superboy-Prime cameo suggests it’s meant for those who just finished Infinite Crisis). I really can’t complain about the issue, either — the Scarecrow fight was a hoot, we get to see Batman doing some detecting, and he’s nice to his colleagues — so for once, it looks like my Bat-attitude needs adjusting….

The Superman Returns Prequel #1 credits pretty much explain the book itself. The comic proper was written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, and drawn by Ariel Olivetti, and it looks good and reads well. However, for some reason, the Superman Returns writers (Bryan Singer, Michael Dougherty, and Dan Harris) get their names above the title, and get credit for “adapting” the story. That leads us back to David Newman & Leslie Newman, Robert Benton, and Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote Superman (1978), where about 60% of this material originally appeared. Jor-El looks like Brando, the rocketship is the Christmas ornament, etc. Even the Action Comics #1 is the one from the movie, with the rocketship cover. If you wanted more Brando out of your Donner movie, this is the book for you.

I talked about Wonder Woman #1 (written by Allan Heinberg, drawn by Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson) in last week’s Grumpy Old Fan, so here I will just say I liked how it faked me out, I’ll probably be sorry to see Heinberg go after these first five issues, and it all looks very intriguing. Oh, and nice costumes on Ultimate Cheetah and Ultimate Giganta.

Fantastic Four: First Family #4 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Chris Weston, inked by Gary Erskine) is starting to feel a little wooly. Weston and Erskine do a fine, almost ridiculously meticulous job, and Casey is starting to put everyone in their familiar places, especially developing Sue’s maternal instincts and Reed’s guilt. The scene where Sue basically tells Reed it’s either her or the lab is very effective. Johnny also has fun showing off to the local teenyboppers. However, I hate to put it this way, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of action otherwise. Reed still hasn’t figured out how to replicate the unstable molecules of their flight suits (which have to be ungodly hot –!) and the Evil Thought-Invading Scientist Dude is still just lurking out there. It’s 2/3 of the way home, folks; time to wrap things up.

Finally, I bought Star Wars Legacy #0 for a quarter, and looking at it am not sure I would have paid much more. It looks pretty much like a bookend to Knights of the Old Republic or some other disconnected-from-the-Skywalkers saga. I know, the main guy is Luke’s descendant by way of Han’s attitude, but nothing about this made me want to get the ongoing series.

May 20, 2006

New comics 5/17/06

Filed under: 52, aquaman, batman, captain america, fantastic four, robin, sgt rock, star wars, superman, weekly roundups — Tom Bondurant @ 4:55 pm
After compiling data from dozens of 50 DC Characters entries I’ve received over the past few days, it’s nice to sit down with a stack of new funnybooks.

Robin #150 (written by Adam Beechen, drawn by Freddie Williams III) was decent, but I’m ambivalent about picking it up again on a regular basis. This is not because I’m shocked and appalled at the treatment of another Bat-character within its pages, but maybe instead because I haven’t really followed the character central to the storyline. These three issues have been a good showcase for Tim’s one-year-better abilities, and this issue in particular hints at a further complication for his civilian life, but I still don’t have a sense of Tim as a person. The art bears some responsibility for this, as Tim varies from somewhere around college-age to early high school. (He’s still high-school-age, apparently.) Also, I don’t like that the new costume doesn’t have a red vest.

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #5 (by Joe Kubert) was a good, cathartic issue. Not only does it feature lots of Nazis getting killed, Easy Company kills them protecting a very sympathetic family. There’s also a good, cathartic fistfight at the end. I can’t say much more without spoiling the surprises. The issue also features a very innovative first-page recap which actually makes sense in the context of the story.

Aquaman: Sword Of Atlantis #42 (written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Butch Guice) pulls back the curtain on a fair amount of the One Year Later backstory, so it has kept me interested for at least another month. I was starting to forget the details of this storyline, since the first couple of issues had blended together in my memories, but this issue grounds it more in the surface-dwelling DC universe. Also, last night I was looking through the DC Encyclopedia (that survey again!) and was reminded that King Shark was an early-90s Superboy villain, so that helped too.

52 #2 (written by GJ, GM, MW, GR, pencilled by Joe Bennett, inked by Jack Jadson) was much better than #1. Who’s kidnapping mad scientists? What’s the cryptic message on Sue Dibny’s tombstone? Why do Renee Montoya and her fling sleep in their bras? This book feels like the window-on-the-world 52 promises. It takes the details and tone of a shared superhero universe (where a newspaper subhead can read “Mystery of the Wandering Witness”) and presents them as the realities of everyday life — without trying to conform them to our world’s reality. Hope it’s this good in, say, October.

On to Superman/Batman #25 (written by Jeph Loeb, pencilled by Ed McGuinness, inked by Dexter Vines) …. You know, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do universe-spanning storylines with multiple versions/analogues of the main characters. There’s even a right and wrong way to have omnipotent beings dictate the whole thing. This issue just doesn’t feel right. It basically boils the “With A Vengeance!” storyline down to a satire poking fun not only at Marvel, but probably also at the book itself. (How else to explain Batzarro’s narrative captions?) That’s not a bad idea in and of itself, but as I probably said several months ago, the satire just lands with a thud. I can’t hate this book, because it was obviously made with love. However, I can say that it is often painfully obvious, and often finds no new ways of approaching very old topics.

Speaking of which, here’s All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder #4 (written by Frank Miller, drawn by Jim Lee and Scott Williams), which I almost didn’t buy because I thought #4 must have been published already. What happens this issue? “Dick Grayson visits the Batcave.” That’s pretty much it, except for brief appearances by Superman and Vicki Vale. Still, Miller does manage to frame explicitly Batman’s rough treatment of his future sidekick in a way which might alter fans’ hostility to the series. Unfortunately, a shot of the still-pneumatic Vicki on the operating table might pick at another scab….

In Fantastic Four: First Family #3 (written by Joe Casey, pencilled by Chris Weston, inked by Gary Erskine), the proto-FF fights the monster from the cover of FF #1 (1961). While the cover’s not specifically re-enacted in the issue, it still shows the team creeping closer to the events of the series, and it’s pretty well done otherwise. Maybe next issue will be the rematch.

Captain America #18 (written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Steve Epting) was a great start to “Twenty-First Century Blitz,” the story which takes Cap to London for a reunion with the Winter Soldier. It’s more superheroic, perhaps, than even the Iron Man and Falcon issues from a few months ago, but it still has the understated spy-novel sensibility you’d expect from Brubaker and Epting. Plus, more Nazis!

I guess I went into Marvel Legacy: The 1970s Handbook expecting more spotlights on the major figures of ’70s Marvel — Spider-Woman, She-Hulk, Howard the Duck, Killraven, etc. Those must have been covered in the regular OHOTMU, because apart from a couple of entries for the Avengers and X-Men, the entries here approach the bottom of the barrel. That doesn’t mean they’re not fun, though. I had been ambivalent about getting the ’60s volume (and the surely-forthcoming ’80s volume), but now I’m interested in seeing what was in it.

Finally, I opened Star Wars: Rebellion #2 (written by Rob Williams, art by Brandon Badeaux) and started reading about … Starbuck? Yep, Deena’s a short-haired blonde with a fondness for tight tanktops and booze, so it’s hard not to draw the comparison. The main plot still revolves around Luke and his old buddy (now Imperial lieutenant) Tank, and the ending is spoiled somewhat by the cover. The art is a bit stiff as well, with Leia in particular not looking quite right. I may give this one ’til the end of its story arc before deciding whether to continue.

Now back to the spreadsheet….

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