Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Daredevil: Love and War

By Frank Miller, Bill Sienkiewicz and Jim Novak
Published By Marvel Comics

Hoping to cure his wife’s mysterious illness, Kingpin forces a French doctor to care for her by hiring a deranged thug to kidnap the doctor’s beautiful wife. As is usually the case, Daredevil gets involved, and what results is a disturbing and disarmingly intimate tale of violence and the multi-layered relationships this particular conflict spawns.

I don’t know if it shows, but I’m usually quite timid when it comes to writing about art in my reviews. And yes, I know the weakness that represents considering the medium I’m covering. I know that, for the most part, the artwork is either helping or hurting my enjoyment of the story along with scripting, but since I can claim at least a little bit of talent at this writing thing whereas drawing so much as a straight line represents a challenge for me, I just tend to be a little more conscious of where the writer’s leading me and how h/she is doing it. Conversely, I can usually only spot the most blatant artistic techniques (I know, for example, that McFarlane’s renderings of Spawn are supposed to make me think he’s kick-ass, killer, wicked, da bomb, etc.).

To say anything about Daredevil: Love and War without mentioning Bill Sienkiewicz’s art would not only be criminal but; as much of a waste of time, energy, and bandwidth writing comic book reviews for free already is; to compound things by failing to mention perhaps the only artist capable of outshining Frank Miller’s scripting on one of Miller’s milestone characters would be such a tragic waste of writing, breathing, or talking; I might as well be accepting a fucking Oscar.

The irony for me is that when I was just a little Hulkling I avoided Sienkiewicz books like they were vegetables. I think the only Sienkiewicz book I ever bought as a child was an issue of New Mutants (and only because it was a part of the “Mutant Massacre” crossover). Other than that, I saw his work only in the pages of my brother’s comparatively meager collection. Those weird, extended, flat heads and the impossibly thin bodies of characters like Cannonball and Legion were just too disturbing for my young mind. Somehow, watching green people beat the shit out of each other didn’t bother me nearly as much as a Sienkewicz-rendered Sam Guthrie doing something as simple as slouching against a wall or talking to a friend.

And if there’s no other proof that comics ain’t just for kids, my growing appreciation for Sienkiewicz’s work should be enough for this or any other court. His renderings of Love and War’s characters show much more range than my childhood fears remember - lending beauty, menace, and heroism to his subjects.

The massive girth of the Kingpin and the flowery vests that mirror the wallpaper of his wife’s bedroom convey the oppression Vanessa desperately wants to escape. Victor, a throwaway thug in any other superhero story, becomes a feral and tragic madman under Sienkiewicz’s care. Contrasting sharply with the darker characters of the story, the heroism evoked in his drawings of Daredevil almost reach the point of parody in some cases, and ironically in others it makes him seem that much more menacing - particularly in a scene towards the end of the novel when Daredevil towers over the thug Turk, you’re reminded that the guy has horns on his head.

Daredevil: Love and War is certainly worth whatever trouble you might have finding it - certainly the best of the 1980's Marvel OGNs I’ve come across so far. If you can’t find the stand-alone graphic novel, unless I’m mistaken it was collected in Daredevil-Elektra: Love and War. Check it out.

Order #66

Perhaps it’s my failing as a writer or perhaps it’s my personal, unconscious homage to George Lucas’s storytelling ability, but I find it difficult to write an organized and coherent review of Revenge of The Sith or the Star Wars prequels as a whole. What follows, rather, is simply a list of thoughts now that the (cough) saga is over.

It should be obvious, but SPOILERS do follow:

- I will preface the following statement by pointing out that - compared to Jedi, Sith, superheroes, ninja, or even the Thundercats - I live a pretty mundane life. I have few overt antagonists and rarely feel the need for vengeance. Revenge is a concept I understand, but have never felt the need to adopt. Regardless, should I ever feel the need for revenge and take steps towards that end; and the result is that I end up legless, armless, and on fire; I do not think the author of the movie of my life will feel I succeeded enough to warrant the title Revenge of The Mick. Apparently, George Lucas feels differently. Order #66...HOOOOO!!!!!!!

- Of the three prequels, I think Attack of The Clones was the best, simply because it was the most fun. It was still crap, but there are some fun parts. Of all the various well-choreographed lightsaber battles - and there are more in Sith than any of the Star Wars films - my favorite one-on-one battle scene remains the fight between Obi-Wan and Jango Fett in Clones, and for similar reasons my favorite lightsaber duel remains Vader Vs. Luke in Empire. Both battles were desperate and furious: far from the smooth dance-move duels of Phantom Menace and Sith.

- As ridiculous as Yoda’s Dragonball-Z battle with Dooku was, at least it was funny. And unlike many of the scenes in Sith that were met with thunderous audience laughter (in the theater I was in at least - Windu vs. Palpatine, Vader’s final stupid “NOOOO!!!!!”), there was at least a small chance that Lucas might have actually MEANT for the Yoda/Dooku battle to be a little funny.

- I understand that Dooku’s Sith name was supposed to be “Darth Tyrannus.” Maybe I’m a silly bastard, but I think it would’ve been a good idea to make this name more well-known than “Dooku.” It’s difficult to take a villain seriously when his name sounds like something toddlers would call what dogs leave behind.

- Who was the main character of the Episode I-III? I mean, sure, there were lots of prominent heroes in Episode IV-VI, but Luke is obviously the main character.

The Prequels seem to suffer from a type of Identity Crisis, particularly The Phantom Menace. Despite the fact that the drama of the prequels revolves around the fall of Annakin Skywalker, Qui-Gonn is the closest thing to a leading character in the first film, and of course he gets skewered. Regrettably, I feel his character was the most interesting of all the leading roles in the prequels, and Niesen was one of the few actors who managed to give a wonderful performance despite the dreck he was given to work with.

- Along with the fall of the Republic, the fall of the Jedi, the fall of Annakin Skywalker, the first and only battle between Yoda and Darth Sidious, Revenge of The Sith gives Star Wars fans one more landmark event of the saga. In the beginning of the film, Annakin and Obi-Wan pilot a damaged droid ship back into Coruscant’s atmosphere. Of ALL the Star Wars films, this was the first time a ship entering the atmosphere of a planet actually experienced what a ship WOULD experience when entering the atmosphere of a planet. Order #66...HOOO!!!!!

- Sith also marks the first time George Lucas apparently realized that if a ship is blown up and a person is in the blowed-up ship, that after the blow-up, the person might actually end up OUTSIDE the ship.

- Chewebacca and the Wookies in Sith. Yeah. That really added a lot, George. All two minutes of it. You spent more time with the fucking Ewoks.

- One of the saddest things about Star Wars is the narrow scope, considering the content. I mean, this is supposed to be this vast galaxy with countless worlds, cultures, etc. In spite of this, no one seems to be able to get the fuck away from fucking Tattooine. Of all the films, Empire is the ONLY one where Tattooine doesn’t eventually show up.

- I’m not a real stickler for scientific accuracy, but there is one thing that continues to bother me. People like Qui-Gonn, Annakin, Obi-Wan, etc. seem to manage to sneak in and out of high-tech bases and such all the time. Now I understand they’re all ninja-esque, but considering the people in this fantasy galaxy manage to create robots so advanced that they can act completely independent of their creators and/or owners, they have laser swords, laser pistols, laser rifles, star ships, etc., don’t you think SOMEONE might have come up with a fucking motion sensor? Half the sinks in the rest stops on the New York State Thruway are apparently more technologically advanced than the fucking Empire.

- Much has already been said about the CGI of the prequels, both good and bad. I think my feelings can be summed up in comparing two different shots from the first Revenge of The Sith teaser.

The first Sith teaser trailer featured shots from most, if not all, of the previous films. One shot from A New Hope had Luke Skywalker staring out at the twin suns of Tattooine. Another was from Attack of The Clones: Annakin sped through the Tattooine desert with the twin suns setting behind him.

The difference between these two shots? You look at the first shot, from A New Hope and think “there’s a guy looking at two suns.” You look at the second shot and think, “there’s an asshole in front of blue screen.”

- Did anyone else notice, in the shots of Annakin trying to claw away from the river of lava, how much it looked like shots from another recent conclusion to a trilogy?

-Apparently, Sith lightning makes you look very old. It didn't work on Annakin, Luke, or Yoda, but apparently Sith lightning makes you look very old, kind of like how borrowing magneto powers to kill New York City gives you skunk hair. Lucas's knowledge of science dwarfs my own.

- Droids can learn the ways of the Force, huh? This thing ain’t as exclusive as we were lead to believe, is it?

And how does the ability to use a lightsaber equate being able to wield The Force?

If you’ll allow me to make a painful confession...I have NO knowledge of how to tap into or control The Force. I know, I know. Not enough Church.

Regardless of this, or the fact that I’ve never meditated and I have, in fact, had sex, I bet if you gave me a weapon capable of severing limbs and instantly cauterizing the resulting stumps, I could kick some serious ass without ever taking any Force 101 classes.

- According to the terrible ramifications of the implementation of Order #66, the secret to defeating the psychic, nigh-unstoppable Jedi is to shoot at them when they don’t know you’re going to shoot at them. Considering the complexity of this strategy, it’s easy to see how these supermen kept peace in the galaxy for so long.

- While I don't agree that Sith was the best of the prequels, I think there was something that threatened to make it worth the price of a tub of popcorn, and it's something that Lucas apparently forgot in the other films.

Despite the fact that the prequels are supposed to chronicle, first and foremost, the descent of Annakin Skywalker and his transformation into Darth Vader, Sith is the first time Annakin experiences ANY kind of moral conflict. In Clones, the conflict revolves around his responsibility vs. his desires, but it rarely focuses on morality. He wants to get nasty with Padme, but he's not supposed to. He wants to leave Naboo to save his mother but he's not supposed to. Yes, he regrets his slaughter of the Sand People, but he never confesses to anyone other than Padme (and apparently Palpatine), and there are never any consequences (at least in regards to his standing with the Jedi). He certainly doesn't seem to be suffering from the act after the brief scene when Padme comforts him in Clones.

Sith is the first time Annakin questions the morality of what he does, and for this conflict to carry significant weight, it should've started much sooner. I'd say it should've started with Phantom Menace. Sure, he was only a kid and to have him experiencing any kind of moral dilemmas would mean a radical changing of the story for the first film, but is there ANYONE who doesn't think such a radical change could've made Menace worse than it already was?

- “You don’t want to sell me death sticks.”

“I don’t want to sell you death sticks.”

“You want to go home and rethink your life.”

“I want to go home and rethink my life.”

These lines were both the beginning and the end of anything good in the Star Wars prequels.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Worf Factor

Maybe it’s something particular to science fiction (or “fiction taking place in space with lots of big blasty sounds” for those who would noisily remind me that Star Wars isn’t real science fiction), but as the Star Wars film saga comes to an end it’s clear to me that one of the faults of both Star Wars and its rival/cousin (depending on who you ask) Star Trek is what I call the “Worf Factor.”

Worf is a badass. Ask anyone. He’s big and growls a lot and he’s got a turtle on his head. He’s a Kling-On and he’s got a big blade thing in his bedroom and that’s all we need to know.

What’s interesting about Worf is that anyone thinks he’s any more threatening than a puppy dog. Check out those old TNG episodes. If there’s anything almost universally true about Worf’s portrayal in the show it’s that he always gets his ass kicked. Always. Whether Data’s evil twin is bitchslapping him in the elevator or some giant toy soldier is running him through with a bayonet, the big dumb shit gets his ass tossed around town more than Brainy Smurf.

It’s not that complicated, really. The writers want us to be scared of the antagonist. What better way to make us fear the bad guy than having him/her choose the biggest good guy badass and beat him down? You’ll notice the same thing with Colossus in those first few stories after the all-important Giant-Size X-men #1. In spite of steel skin and strength that rivals that of any of Marvel’s mightiest strongmen, he rarely adds anything positive to the battle because he’s busy getting the White Russian kicked out of him.

Regardless, many Trek fans still see Worf as a badass, simply because he’s a member of an invincible warrior race...an invincible warrior race that is defeated just about every time it shows up...

Perhaps the most infamous villain of the Next Generation series - The Borg - similarly falls short of its reputation at every turn. The Borg, we are led to believe, is the ultimate machine of evolution. It evolves to meet every strategy, every boundary, and every technology. Shoot two Borg drones, another will show up whose hide you can’t dent. Manage to put a few holes in a Borg ship and it’ll seal up faster than Hugh Jackman’s skin in the X-men films. Try to take them on in Checkers or Risk and they’ll fucking annihilate your ass. Resistance is futile. Don’t fuck with the Borg.

So, what kind unbeatable strategies does the Borg use to defeat the Federation? How does it evolve after the victories the good guys just barely managed to seize from it?

Well, the Borg first assaulted the Federation in the two-part “The Best of Both Worlds.” A lone Borg cube drove its way into Federation space, wreaking havoc as it went. With comparative ease, it breached our star system’s defenses, laid waste to starships, and was just barely stopped through the cunning of the Enterprise crew on the very doorstep of Earth.

Later, in Star Trek: First Contact, once again the Borg sent a cube to Earth. Once again, the cube managed to rip through StarFleet only to be stopped just outside Earth’s orbit.

Now, after “The Best of Both Worlds,” exactly how did the Borg “evolve?” What master strategy did this Darwinist machine concoct to win where it had previously failed? Yeah, there was the whole time-travel thing, but that seemed like a last-minute contingency rather than a Plan A type deal, since they only went forward with it once they blew the fuck up.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a cyborg mind capable of complex calculations in microseconds. I know I’m not that smart. Maybe one day, after a good diet and a minimum of TV, but as of right now I’m just not eligible for that particular Mensa card.

Still, let me ask you. If you wanted to conquer and assimilate the people, technology, and resources of an intergalactic empire, had tried to do it before, failed, but had almost succeeded in spite of the fact that you only sent one ship...

...you think the second time, maybe you might spring for TWO?

I know, I know. I can’t comprehend the wisdom and infallible strategy of a super-intelligent cyborg mind that has conquered and assimilated 234,243,254,324 whatever and planets and lots of death and yeah, blah. But, you know, if Hitler had almost taken Moscow with just one tank, call me Mr. Historical Revisionist, but I bet he would’ve sprung for two tanks on the second try. Budget be damned! Make a few less VW’s that year.

The point being that, in Star Trek, the characters very rarely live up to their press releases. I’m pretty sure I’ve won more fistfights than Worf, and while I’m no Bobby Fischer-level strategist, unlike the Borg I always make sure to bring at least TWO pencils to all my final exams, just in case.

Star Wars also suffers from the Worf Factor, particularly in the cases of the most important characters as well as those characters who represent the ideologies behind the whole thing.

Let’s take the Jedi Masters for example: the pillars of wisdom and knowledge in Star Wars. The Jedi are part samurai, part diplomats, part super-spies, with an impossibly rigid discipline that - along with their connection to the mysterious “Force” - grants them supernatural powers. These powers include, among other things, precognition and a minor form of telepathy.

Let’s take review some of the examples of wisdom sprung from the lips of these psychic bastards:

“Impossible! The Sith have been extinct for a millenium!”

“I do not believe the Sith could have returned without us knowing”

“Our intelligence points to disgruntled miners, on the moons of Naboo (trying to assassinate Amidala)”

“(Dooku) is a political idealist! Not a murderer!”

“You know m’lady, Count Dooku was once a Jedi. He couldn’t assassinate anyone. It’s not in his character.”

“The Chancellor doesn’t appear to be corrupt . . . I think he is a good man.”

“If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”

“If you leave now, help them you could. But you would destroy all for which they have fought and suffered.”

“He is more machine now than man. Twisted and evil.”

“I can’t kill my own father.”
“Then the Emperor has already won.”

Forgetting the good guys for a bit, what about the bad guys? How about Vader himself? Now he’s a badass. Scourge of the galaxy. The clones have to change their armor every time he walks by. Big, dark, heavy-breathing bad guy. In fact, all of the drama (cough) of the prequels revolves around what a meany bad mo’fo’ poor li’l Annakin is about to become.

Now let’s look at his score.

Attack of The Clones: Despite the advantage of outnumbering Count Dooku 2-to-1, Vader Jr. gets electrocuted, hurled into a wall, and knocked out. Then, armed with two lightsabers, gets his arm sliced off by the same guy who is subsequently humbled by some reject from Dragonball-Z who bears a striking resemblance to Yoda.

A New Hope: Now fully grown with all the grown up diodes and switches in the right parts, Vader faces a geriatric Obi-Wan. The ensuing battle, compared the CGI-aided duels of the prequels, is choreographed similar to the lawn rake fights between Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau in Grumpier Old Men. In spite of his cybernetic strength and overall scariness, Vader fails to kill his mentor, who kills himself in order to be intangible and cryptic.

Empire Strikes Back: Vader finally gets to kick some ass, the ass in question being his son’s ass who has enjoyed a few weeks of training versus the decades of training Vader was given. Vader fails to kill or capture his whining son, but does take off a hand (a hand, not a whole arm, like the arm the invincible warrior of Gremlins 2 fame took from Annakin). Luke escapes by throwing himself down one of the useless bottomless shafts that are featured in every respectable lightsaber battle.

Return of The Jedi: Vader’s ass is thoroughly kicked, by the guy he failed to kill in the previous movie, and he loses a limb AGAIN. He does manage to kill The Emperor, from behind while he’s not looking. He dies, his corpse is burnt, and presumably is served as an entree’ at the Ewok victory celebration.

Revenge of The Sith: Now, I haven’t managed to catch the movie yet, but considering that a big, black toaster oven with emphysema replaces the handsome dork who starred in Attack of The Clones, I think I might be able to guess who won that battle...

Similarly, I’ve never really understood the Star Wars fan fascination with Boba Fett. He also is considered an absolute badass, despite the fact that he’s killed by a blind man who wasn’t even trying to hit him, and whose best showing in the history of the saga was moments before his death when he attacked Luke Skywalker with...string.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Over at Brill Building, Ian Brill discusses continuity:

A week or two ago at ye old comics hut I heard one fan point out to Mike how it’s annoying that Wolverine gets brainwashed in his book while he’s a-okay in Astonishing X-Men. I would say (although I didn’t) that if something like that is bothering you maybe the books you’re reading just aren’t that good. That, or simply relax and take each book on its own.

For the most part, I agree. Especially in an example like this where you’ve got a character who is not only the lead in his own ongoing monthly while appearing in a team title, but also regularly appears in a bunch of other team books, you really just need to put your suspension-of-disbelief into high gear and accept it.

However, I don’t universally agree that all continuity violations (for lack of a better word) are okay. Most are fine and fans’ complaints usually amount to little more than the kind of stereotypical geekery that comic readers are branded with. But there is a particular kind of continuity violation that I do care about, though unfortunately it isn’t the one that most fans get riled up for.

The most common continuity violations are technical ones. So-and-so was resurrected without explanation. So-and-so fought this hero the same month he fought this other hero. So-and-so didn’t do THIS even though he could obviously do it because he did it in Amazing Tales of Amazingness #4894308554397. That kind of thing. This, I don’t care about.

In fact, a lot of times I like it. In one example, a few years ago DC had a big, stupid crossover called “Our Worlds of War” that zig-zagged through just about every DC comic (and if that wasn’t bad enough, another crossover - “Joker’s Last Laugh” - fell hard on its heels). At about the same time, in The Avengers, Kurt Busiek wrote a story about Kang conquering the Earth. Normally, this would be a story that would have to be a crossover because we’re told other non-Avengers superheroes have formed small groups to rebel against Kang’s forces and characters like Wolverine and Spider-Man make very brief cameos as freedom fighters. Instead, Busiek was allowed to circumvent the normal rules and keep it self-contained in The Avengers. Considering that OWAW was so massive that it took two TPBs to collect it, whereas the “Kang Dynasty” took place in only one ongoing monthly, it seems clear which story offered the better deal.

So, no. I don’t care if Bendis has Daredevil and Spider-Man fighting Mister Hyde the same month Geoff Johns has him battling the Avengers. I don’t care if Peter David resurrects The Leader without giving any explanation how he survived falling into a volcano. And I care so little about fans’ complaints regarding Spider-Man beating up Firelord that I actually found the bastard and beat the shit out of him myself last week.

The kind of continuity violation I do care about is in regards to character: when the essentials of a particular character are radically altered for no good reason and with no explanation. When Bruce Jones (once again, I’ll use ANY EXCUSE to bring this up) writes a story with The Absorbing Man as the villain, and has him speaking and acting like a maniacal, evil genius whereas every single other appearance he’s made in comics have featured a surly, monosyllabic idiot, THAT I have a problem with. When he likewise takes characters like Bruce Banner, Doc Samson, and Betty Ross and has them all talking like Black Ops/Super Spies, THAT I have a problem with. Because now you’re not just making little technical or chronological boo-boo’s out of either pure error or editorial apathy.

I mean Daredevil is Daredevil no matter what he does or doesn’t fire out of his billyclub. But when you take Bruce Banner and make him a generic everyman who spouts dumb lines of dialogue from bad movies, that’s not Bruce Banner. Sure, characters change, but there should be some reason for the change. If there’s some logical course Bruce Banner could take to change him from the man he was into a dumber version of Fox Mulder, well then let’s see it. Let’s see how it happened.

While Wolfman is right in saying, “The worst ideas become part of continuity and the best writers have to deal with it,” I also think that the best ideas become part of continuity and, unfortunately, the worst writers get a chance to ruin them.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Swap Meet #2 -Thor: The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill

(Swap Meet Reviews are reviews of Graphic Novels and Trade Paperback collections Mick Martin obtains from his various dealings at Sequential Swap: a site for comic book readers to trade TPBs and GNs with other readers from all over the world.)

By Walter Simonson, John Workman and George Roussos
Published By Marvel Comics

Collects The Mighty Thor, Volume 1 #337-#340


Due to my alliances regarding a conflict older than any past or present members of Menudo, the adventures of Marvel’s (dead) Thunder God have long escaped my notice. Considering this, The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill seemed like a good starting place, because it focuses not on ol’ goldilocks, but one of Marvel’s most well-received spin-offs: the guy with, arguably, the ugliest face in comics as well as (I think so anyway) the coolest freakin’ name. Not to mention the fact that it features the first storyline from Thorite-favorite, Walt Simonson.

Tapped by Nick Fury, Thor travels through space to meet a potentially dangerous spaceship heading for Earth. Once on the ship, a powerful alien (Beta Ray Bill) believes Thor is one of a race of demons attempting to annihilate his people. Bill manages to separate Thor from his legendary hammer and K.O.’s the thunder god after he transforms into the all-too-human Donald Blake. To everyone’s surprise, including Bill’s, he manages to use Thor’s hammer and the power that comes with it. After Odin takes him to Asgard, mistaking him for Thor, Bill’s troubles are revealed. He is searching for shelter from a horde of space demons who pursue his people. He believes he now has the power necessary with Mjolnir in his possession, but for obvious reasons Thor isn't willing to hand it over without a fight.

While you expect Thor to play second fiddle to Beta Ray Bill - considering both the subtitle of the trade as well as Thor’s absence on the cover - what’s genuinely surprising is that he doesn’t play second fiddle. More like fourth or fifth fiddle. He’s the focus of the first issue - when Bill is first introduced as an antagonist - but after that the tragically heroic Bill, the heartbroken Sif, a disillusioned Balder, and Big-Thor-Daddy Odin loom larger in the story than the guy whose name adorns the cover (Dear Bruce Jones: Take notes). It’s difficult for me to say this is a “welcome change” since I’m so unfamiliar with Thor, though it was a pleasant surprise.

While the two certainly have different storytelling voices, I was struck by how Simonson’s intimate understanding of mythology and fable reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Particularly when Marvel’s-Favorite-Fatty Volstagg settles his weight atop an overzealous warrior and recounts the tale of Balder’s stay in Hel and its ramifications, in spite of the obvious content restraints, you can easily imagine you’re reading one of the many strange tavern tales of Sandman: World’s End.

And despite the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents; the space battles; the space borne protagonist; and even the slightly disarming feeling that springs up when you watch the gods assembled at the forging of Stormbreaker - Beta Ray Bill’s answer to Thor’s Mjolnir - all sporting protective goggles, every bit of the story feels like a tale you could find in Aesop’s Fables or Greco-Roman myth. Despite the relative limbo he’s suffered since Simonson’s departure from Thor, The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill survives as one of the most tangibly mythic and epic superhero origin tales, and I was glad that - despite my previously mentioned allegiance - I enjoyed every page.

There’s little I can think of to put in the minus column, though if there is anything it’s the conclusion of the trade. Simonson spends so much time introducing us to Bill and winning us to his side that the concluding battle seems tacked on. Still, the rest of the story makes up for it.

There is one little thing that’s minor enough to forget, but too nagging to not mention. When Fury first tells Thor of Bill’s spaceship, he mentions the ship devours an entire star in order to power itself, thereby destroying the star's accompanying system. Considering the heroism Simonson lends Beta Ray Bill, it seems likely the accompanying system was meant to be uninhabited, but it’s never mentioned. Like I said, not a huge deal, yet considering how much this will remind the avid Marvel comics reader of a certain tall purple guy with an insatiable appetite, some clarification would’ve been nice.

Ultimately, Thor: The Ballad of Beta Ray Bill will be returning to my swap list, but not for any failings of the story. Upon searching for a follow-up trade, I learned that none exists. Rather, these four issues and the eight following it are collected in Thor Visionaries, Volume 1: Walt Simonson, and so I’m hoping to replace it with something a bit thicker.

--Mick Martin

Monday, May 09, 2005

Favorite FCBD conversation

At my local shop, every year they have a guy in the back with a bunch of Marvel trivia cards. If I recall correctly, the way it works is that you get three automatic free comics, and after that you have to answer some trivia questions to get any more.

Comic Shop Guy: Okay, which Fantastic Four Villain lives underground?

Mick: Underground?

Comic Shop Guy: Underground.

Mick: The Mole Man.

(one free comic and a few minutes later)

Comic Shop Guy: Okay, which member of the New Mutants has the real name Sam Guthrie?

Mick: Cannonball.

(one free comic and a few minutes later, my girlfriend wants me to answer a question so she can snag another one)

Comic Shop Guy: Okay, this might be a little bit tougher. Which Marvel character is described as "The Human Rocket"?

Mick: Uh.

Comic Shop Guy: Yeah, it's kinda tough.

Mick: It can't be Cannonball, that was the last one (Mick starts trying to remember name of obscure villain from the Circus of Crime, eventually remembers it's "Human Cannonball" which would make the likelihood of a "Human Rocket" nickname very slim).

Comic Shop Guy: Nope, not him.

Mick: Er...

Comic Shop Guy: I don't know if this will help-

Mick: Er...

Comic Shop Guy: Erik Larsen has a hard-on for him.

Mick: Oh! Nova!

Dear Erik Larsen's Hard-On,
We at The Daily Burn would like to thank you both for the free comic book, and for a brief break from studying about how evil men have oppressed women. Thanks, Mick Martin.

Friday, May 06, 2005

TV Party Tonight! TV Party Tonight!

ADD wants to know what TV shows I watch. Barely any (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I guess).

As I mentioned a few months ago in a post about Buffy The Vampire Slayer, due primarily to my girlfriend’s concerns that she was losing time in front of the tube that could be better spent working on academic endeavors, somewhere around a year and a half ago she asked if I’d be willing to join her in a month-long TV fast. After the month was over, neither of us missed it, and we’ve been TV-free ever since. Well, for the most part. My girlfriend hooked up rabbit ears temporarily to watch last year’s Oscar Awards, but other than that the TV signals have found no home in our apartment.

I catch bits and pieces of TV sporadically: sometimes while visiting my parents, sometimes at my night job when there’s just nothing else to do, and sometimes in the food court or various lounges of my school.

As far as TV is concerned, I’ve become the television audience member version of the “TPB only” guys. As a consumer, I think the best perk of the DVD age has nothing to do with the sound or picture quality, or the special features (which I usually don’t care about except when they’re as thorough and entertaining as the stuff you find on the extended Lord of The Rings DVDs, and even then they can be TOO thorough–e.g., like many American geeks I harbor some healthy ill will towards George Lucas, and suspect that the hack continues to make films simply so he can make the “Making Of” specials–and while I realize this tangent is becoming much too forked for merely one pair of parentheses, I do have to point out that his prequel special features seem to act as proof of his enduring hackery–watch the feature on The Phantom Menace regarding how he chose the young Anakin Skywalker, and you just try to tell me that BOTH of the other kids he looked at didn’t blow away the little shit he finally tapped for the role). No, the best thing about the death of VHS is the collecting of whole seasons of TV shows in (sometimes, not) relatively affordable format. Sure, I love the fact that I can get some of my favorite films like Fight Club or Bladerunner on DVD, but offer me two hours of The Incredibles for $15-$20 versus twenty-plus hours of Buffy The Vampire Slayer for $40-$50, and it’s really no damn contest.

And there’s NO. FUCKING. COMMERCIALS. I can’t emphasize that enough. My girlfriend will attest to the fact that, before we discarded the rabbit ears for good, it was not uncommon for me to throw things at the TV during commercial breaks (nothing breakable, usually). In our particular region of NY, we have perhaps one of the most annoying series of local commercials in the world. There’s a fat guy with a bunch of Dodge dealerships named “Fuccillo” who ends all of his spots by letting us know his savings are huge. Or, more accurately, they’re “Hu-YOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-JUH!” I can actually forgive the “Hu-YOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” but not the “JUH!” The “JUH!” is a fucking deal-breaker. And what really irks me is the fucker apparently records new spots every few days in order to get a wide, diverse variety of “JUH!”s. Ironically enough, the guy whose local commercials were almost as bad, a mattress outlet owner, has disappeared ever since the rise of the “JUH!” I recall back when I worked an all-night shift at a bagel shop when I listened to the radio, the guy had radio spots that were literally around two to three minutes long. The fact that his TV and radio spots have quietly disappeared make me suspect he’s either affiliated with Fuccillo or maybe even got whacked by the guy. There was definitely a recognition, either solely on Fuccillo’s part or both if they’re allied, that even the silly American monkey consumers could only take so much Dow Syndrome-esque advertising before they rose up and killed all the bastards. “There’s only room enough in this town for one greedy, stupid asshole who’s such an idiot on TV that some suburban asshole will think he’s actually cute...and that’s me.” My girlfriend and I do NOT drive people off the road every time we see their back license plate framed with “Fuccillo Dodge,” but only because we’d get in big trouble if we did. Huge trouble. Juh.

Despite my initial concerns when we first started getting TV seasons on DVD, in the cases of shows like Buffy where a good deal of the suspense hinges on cliffhangers, the fact that we don’t have to wait a week or a whole season for the resolution doesn’t seem to take away from the enjoyment. Sure, the answer to what Willow will do after her girlfriend gets blown away is only a click of the remote away, but as much as I like having hours and hours of Buffy at my fingertips, that doesn’t mean I have the time to watch large chunks in one sitting. When we started collecting the Buffy seasons on DVD, my girlfriend and I would watch most of the episodes together and when we finally did get to the big season climaxes, it would be a genuine event, just as good–in my opinion anyway–as going out to dinner or a movie. And we didn’t have any huge, juh bullshit to sit through, either.

That said, we don’t have nearly as many shows on disc that I’d like. But you know, we do have to do stupid things like pay rent and stuff. We’ve got all seven seasons of Buffy, season one and two of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, season one of Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast, season three of The X-Files, the entire Band of Brothers and Tenacious D series, the first Batman The Animated Series collection, a mighty fine gaggle of Mystery Science Theater 3000 shows (with Joel, of course, we’re not fucking heathens), and maybe a half-dozen or so episodes of The Powerpuff Girls.

Okay. So, actually, it seems we have a hell of a lot more TV shows on DVD than I thought.

Me still want more, though. More, more, more.

Like ADD, I wasn’t always happy with the various Star Trek spin-offs. There are a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I would love to own (specifically, the ones I mentioned in my post regarding the overuse of time travel), though unless I spontaneously become independently wealthy, I’d have a hard time buying an entire season.

I like what I’ve seen of West Wing, but I have a problem with it. It’s the same problem I had another show of Aaron Sorkin’s–Sports Night. It’s the same problem I have with Gilmore Girls and it’s the same problem I have with a lot of Kevin Smith’s films (and every time I mention this, just about everyone in my age group looks at me like they want to lynch me).

People just aren’t that fucking witty off-the-cuff. I know. I know. It’s fucking fiction, I know. People don’t fly and shoot lasers out of their eyes either, but my suspension-of-disbelief sensors don’t seem to have a problem with it. I know. Honestly, I don’t necessarily consider this a failing of Sorkin’s, Smith’s, or Amy Sherman’s (Gilmore Girls writer), just a pet peeve of my own. When I listen to this kind of 100-mile-an-hour, witty dialogue, it just makes me think “Okay, someone thought of every awesome comeback they never thought of at the times when it would’ve been most useful, wrote them all down, and called it Mallrats.” It just seems like written masturbation to me, which doesn’t mean much coming from a guy who spends a good deal of time writing about comic books and superheroes for free. Like I said, it’s just my thing. Not their fault. Just a little pet peeve of mine. Just a little one. Juh.

I would love to have at least a few more X-Files seasons on disc, but not only have I only been able to find the horrible final season in my local stores, but they’re just too damn expensive. Compare the # of shows on the Buffy DVDs to the shows on the X-Files collections, even considering the more extensive special features in the Buffy collections, I really don’t know what the hell I’m paying for (If I recall correctly, I can usually get a Buffy season for around $40/$50, whereas the cheapest X-Files seasons are around $90, usually closer to $120-$150). I think I’d be willing to dish out some dough for the fourth season, but not much else. Unlike most X-Files fans, the “mythology” episodes tend to be my least favorite. I’d much rather watch “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Bad Blood,” or “Postmodern Prometheus” than all that bullshit with the unnaturally eloquent and incredibly UN-scary Smoking Man and Krycek with his Skinner-killing palm pilot. If Duchovny’s career ever descends so far that he finally nods to another X-Files film, while I know I would be in a very small minority, I’d rather they deal with something purely supernatural than more alien mythology crap.

And forgive me any readers who never watched the show regularly, but did anyone else ever have a problem with the fact that Mulder was always beating the shit out of Krycek? Especially in that two-parter where they go to Russia, Mulder LAPD’s Krycek every few minutes, whereas I think anyone with a pair of working eyes could tell that Krycek could take Mulder’s collection of The Foundation Trilogy and stuff it up his ass so far Isaac Asimov would spurt out of his mouth in about two seconds flat. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just another pet peeve of mine. Juh.

Twin Peaks absolutely blew my mind when I first saw it, and as is usually the case, I didn’t catch it until a few years after it was all over. When I was at school in Florida, a friend told me I should check out the Twin Peaks marathon on Bravo. I missed some pretty big chunks of it, but while I know a lot of folks were unhappy with the end of the final episode (which, from what I understand, was not meant to be the final episode), it kicked my ass and my ass liked it. I was literally shaking the next day.

The thing I love the most about Twin Peaks is that it handled the supernatural in a unique way. I think too much supernatural fiction (in any medium) suffers from what I call the “stake in the heart” failing. In other words, it turns the supernatural into a science (and The X-Files is a good example of this though I do like the show, but let’s forget about that because, well, it weakens my argument, duh). The best example I can think of is perhaps my least favorite Stephen King short story, “The Mangler.” Some guy figures out this laundry press is evil (I’m not kidding). He consults this other guy, who somehow is an expert on evil spirits that possess laundry presses, who explains to him what he has to do to expel the spirit from the thing. He says something like, “You’re lucky it’s not this other so-and-so god, cause he’d eat bibles up like candy.” Okay, so that’s not verbatim, but it was the dumbest line of dialogue I’d ever found in a King story. Who the fuck calculates how many fucking Bibles you need to expel evil gods from laundry presses? It’s just stupid. And then, of course, the big twist at the end is that it IS, in fact, the many-bible-eating god who possesses the evil laundry press. Shirts everywhere cry in aguish. KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!!

It just seems like the usual format of stories featuring supernatural threats is that they start off with an air of mystery and terror, then the hero(es) run into some Giles-like guy who apparently exists only to study up on mysterious and supernatural stuff: “Yes, you must throw a pinch of blessed salt over your shoulder while crapping wooden stakes into the beast’s heart and showing it its own reflection because we all know evil things can’t stand their own reflections...5 o’clock shadow infests their meaty visages.” And the result is that the supernatural isn’t so supernatural anymore. It’s for similar reasons that I applaud Kurt Busiek’s promise to never release a much-requested Astro City role playing game: the fact that the heroes of his comic (still one of the best superhero books on the market in my opinion) haven’t been whittled down to the stupid how-much-tonnage-can-they-lift and how-fast-can-they-fly statistics is part of what helps them keep their mystery.

Twin Peaks hinted. It didn’t tell. It kept the supernatural mysterious, and the supernatural SHOULD be mysterious. Despite the fact that I’ve watched every episode as well as the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, I’ll never be able to fully explain to anyone who Mike is, or Bob, or the little guy in red, or the freaky kid in the mask, etc., and I like it that way. All I can assure you is that there’s a shelf somewhere in the Black Lodge reserved for FBI Agents (most of whom, apparently, enjoy successful singing careers before suffering mediocre acting stints–forgive me, my lovely girlfriend, I get precious few chances to make fun of David Bowie on a blog concerning comic books and superheroes, and I will take what opportunities I can get).

I’m also a fan of the various Law & Order shows, though I think there’s a very obvious failing with all of them which would make me think twice before getting them on DVD. As soon as someone shows up on camera–who is NOT a member of the regular cast–if the actor playing the character has been in a movie, you know they did it. I recall annoying my girlfriend once when she was in California visiting her family, and I was laying on the futon, watching L & O. In the middle of a sentence, I stopped and shouted “SHE DID IT!” I’m not particularly good at figuring out whodunnits, I simply recognized the actress in question as the woman who played Helen Hunt’s mother in As Good As It Gets. And yes, she ended being the one whodunnit. This rule isn’t always true, but it won’t steer you wrong in most cases.

I particularly enjoy watching Law & Order: Criminal Intent with my girlfriend. One of her most intense celebrity crushes is for Vincent D’Onofrio, giving me the opportunity to make fun of him for the entire hour

The only problem I have with his character–and his acting is superb–is the fact that he’s a cop. Or, more to the point, he’s a cop with rank. In other words, I could easily see his character as kind of an eccentric consultant-to-cops like the ones found on Monk or (God help us) Millenium, but I have a real problem imagining any police officer standing there and dutifully nodding to his orders without burying their billy clubs into his skull and yelling “STOP MOVING YOU TWITCHY BASTARD!”

Well, this thing is already 10 times longer than it had to be. I guess I haven’t blogged in so long, I made up for my absence with a vengeance.

P.S. I would also love to watch more of the various Justice League stuff, but I'm waiting for them to release some substantial collections.


P.P.P.S. Not the live-action, that doesn't count.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Overdue Books #1

Money’s tight. You and your girlfriend move into a new, more expensive apartment to escape the noises of the 24-hour Jerry Springer show that rages upstairs between the rotating series of neighbors who all seem to attract the same police, the same social workers, and the same debt collectors. Money gets tighter. So much so that you limit yourself to one TPB or GN per month (if that often). You get most of your comics through online swapping. You close down your blog, in part because you can’t afford enough material to say anything particularly relevant. A website you write for announces a relaunch, and of course you want your voice to be right there alongside the other reviewers whose insight you respect and admire, but a reviewer needs material to review. No one’s sending review copies to your silly ass. So. What do you do?

Get a library card.

And there’s really nothing more to the concept behind Overdue Books. I love comics. Want to write about them. No money. Go to library. Libraries don’t make me pay. Commie bastards.

Well, maybe there is a bit more to it. Maybe I was a little surprised to find out just how many comics I found in my local library and wouldn’t mind surprising other readers in regards to what they might find in their own local houses of commie book lending.

And yeah, just maybe reading the columns here at CBG has been nudging me towards a less superhero-centric state of mind. I love my sadomasochistic harbingers of justice and won’t apologize for it, but change is always good unless it includes Herpes. I want to expand my horizons. I want to get as turned on about comics without colorful gloves cracking square jaws as I do when I see a preview pic of Hulk throwing down with Devil Dinosaur. Reading the e-mails between the CBG staff reminds me of a time when I was 11 or so and I sat with my father, my uncle, and my uncle’s friend as they scratched their chins and Hmmm’d and Ah’d at their discourse regarding dense intellectual texts, and I tried to impress them by mentioning I’d read the first few pages of The Silmarillion. The reviewers here spit out names of geniuses so completely alien to me. Dan Clowes? Andy Diggle? Peter Bagge (actually, I knew that name, he wrote a Hulk thing, I think)? Alien names from alien worlds too promising to not explore, and I’ve always been too inferior an explorer to feel comfortable putting my name next to the other guys on this site. Every time they’re gracious enough to allow me some space at CBG, I feel like Teen Wolf at a Hare Chrishna convention. I’ve got hair, they know I’ve got hair, and all I can do is pull it back and spout a bunch of BS about Louis Riel as if I actually read the thing.

And so, with an analogy that was meant as a sincere compliment but will probably get my ass kicked, I give you the first installment of Overdue Books. There’s no common element other than the fact that I found them all in one of my local libraries, and all the titles start with the same letter. This week’s column is brought to you by the letter A. A is for August and ADD and Alternative Comix and Adam Strange (GOD SAVE RANN!).

Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships
Script and Art by Eric Shanower
Published by Image Comics, $19.95 US

After discovering he is one of the Princes of Troy, the young and brash Paris is anything but apprehensive in regards to harnessing his newfound royal privileges. When he hears of King Priam’s desire to have his sister Hesione returned to him from the palace at Salamis, Paris volunteers to bring her back to Troy. Instead of returning Hesione to his father, he uses the opportunity to seduce and capture the beautiful Helen of Sparta, thus laying the groundwork for the Trojan War: a legendary conflict immortalized in The Illiad, leading to the events of The Odyssey, spawning tomes of both literary and historical conjecture, a Monty Python gag involving a wooden bunny, a town in upstate NY with lots of one-way streets, another chance to see Brad Pitt without his shirt, and of course Eric Shanower’s series Age of Bronze. A good chunk of the beginning of Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships focuses on Paris. Raised by the aged herdsman Agelaus, Paris is ignorant of his heritage. After a royal delegation procures a white bull from the old man, Paris forces Agelaus to bring him to Troy so he can find a way to win back the rare beast. Paris defeats Troy’s princes in various contests and when the humiliated brothers threaten to kill Paris, Agelaus is forced to reveal his ward’s true identity in order to save his life.

I was hopelessly bored with the beginning of the volume in spite of Shanower’s wonderful art, and I can’t decide whether it’s due to shoddy storytelling or the simple fact that this tale - young, brash hick boy finds out he’s got a kick-ass lineage and eventually becomes a hero - has become too often regurgitated to seem fresh in any format. Some historical sense diode switched off in my mind, allowed me to forget that Homer actually pre-dates George Lucas, and didn’t let me see young Paris as more than just another goddamn Skywalker.

As the scope of the story broadened, so did my interest. As Thetis races to hide her son Achilles from the coming conflict, and as Menelaus and Agamemnon begin to summon the armies of Greece to their side, the dramas multiply and the overall story becomes that much more enthralling. At first, it can be a little confusing. There are so many alien names in this book, more often than not ending with "us", but as my eyes adjusted to Shanower’s beautiful and historically accurate renderings (at least according to a bunch of blurbs from people who apparently know a lot more than me at the series’ website), the characters became more distinct. Paris revealed himself to be much more complicated than Darth’s goofy kid, due to one of Shanower’s more successful storytelling choices.

While he certainly does not abandon the more supernatural elements of other versions of this story, Shanower refuses to give them the kind of prominence you might expect from a straight reading of The Illiad. For example, when we hear of the contest in which Paris supposedly won Helen - a prize from the Aphrodite for his proclaiming her fairest of the goddesses - Paris says it came to him in a dream. In another example Cheiron, the tutor of Achilles who is a half-man/half-horse or "Centaur" in greek myth, is instead a "Kentaur," without any horse half to his body (he’s just really hairy).

The result is that in Age of Bronze, the conflict is tragic much more in the contemporary sense of the word than the Shakespearean one. So many of the stories of Greco-Roman myth could arguably be boiled down to a phrase like, "If the gods want to fuck with you, you’re a whole buncha fucked," and the story of the Trojan War is no different. By giving readers the freedom to ask questions like "Did Aphrodite really ensnare Helen for Paris, or was he just a good liar?" and "Did Helen’s face really launch a thousand ships, or did the fact that white guys like to kill other white guys and take their stuff launch a thousand ships?" Shanower has given accountability back to the humans, thereby making them that much more interesting and the wider conflict that much more riveting.

The genealogical chart, bibliography, glossary, and list of references at the back of the book should convince readers of the monstrous amount of research done to tell this tale, and the nitpicking helps drive the story rather than bog it down. Remember like Titanic and Smallville, we all know how this thing’s going to end, and a straight guys-charge-a-city-in-cool-splash-pages script ain’t gonna be enough to elevate this tale above the aforementioned examples. The politics behind the conflict, Agamemnon’s wooing of many of the key players on the "Troy sucks" side of the war, the hardships of trying to hold together that army, and Achilles’s bizarre drama before the war where he succeeds as western myth’s first cross-dresser are all integral in convincing the reader that this is a story worth reading, even if we all know what the final conflict will yield (SPOILER WARNING: Clark becomes a superhero).

I knew Age of Bronze’s subject matter long before reading this volume, and honestly felt a little apprehensive about reviewing it. I’ve never seen the film Troy, and considering its success at the box office, I felt discussing a story about the Trojan War without mentioning Troy would be comparable to reviewing a graphic novel about the Battle of Normandy a few months after the release of Saving Private Ryan without making a meaningful comparison. Now, I really don’t think it matters, because I can’t imagine that yet another example of Ridley Scott’s post-Blade Runner uselessness could compare to Shanower’s epic, and I’m looking forward to future volumes.

Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 8: Sins Past
Script by J. Michael Straczynski, Art by Mike Deodato Jr.
Published by Marvel Comics, $12.99 US

After he receives a long-delayed letter from a dead lover, Peter Parker is thrust into a mystery that adds an insidious element to one of the hero’s most well remembered stories.

At my job, the guy who collects the time sheets and makes sure we all get paid instituted a strange policy some months ago. Apparently, people were having trouble turning their time sheets in on time, so much so that the aforementioned pay check guy had to introduce a time sheet lottery. Turn in your time sheet on time, and you get a chance to win some pretty mediocre prizes. About a month ago I was one of the winners and received a free National Treasure DVD. Initially, I saw a wonderful re-gift opportunity (for my brother, probably, who I’m kind of angry with these days), but my curiosity got the better of me. One night I broke the plastic seal and watched the flick while my girlfriend was out with her friends and safe from my insane experiments. By the time my girlfriend returned home and asked me how it was, I already had my response prepared. I told her, "While I was watching it, a piece of shit actually jumped out of the litter box, sat next to me on the futon, looked at the screen and said ‘Hey! That looks like me!’"

I liked Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 8: Sins Past a little bit more than National Treasure.

I’ve never been a regular follower of Spider-Man’s various exploits, but after the buzz that JMS’s entry into the creative staff stirred I picked up a few of the trades out of curiosity. At first I loved it, and was more impressed with the humor than anything else. Writers have always given us a wisecracking Spider-Man, but it’s rare that those wisecracks have been genuinely funny. When I read the fifth volume, Unintended Consequences, I noticed a pattern emerging. The bulk of each issue would be dedicated to the hero vs. villain story, but there would be 2-3 page breaks that would be nothing but Peter and MJ. Sometimes it’s Peter and MJ sitting on a couch, sometimes at the breakfast table, sometimes in bed, etc. They joke a little, reveal things about each other they’ve never revealed before, and beat us over the head with how much they REALLY REALLY love each other because we just haven’t heard it enough.

Take everything that’s wrong with those 2-3 page breaks, stretch them out until they take up seventy to eighty percent of the story, and you get Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 8: Sins Past.

The story is so overloaded with epiphany, revelations, and melodrama it’s just exhausting. Comparatively speaking, it’s largely humorless. We learn lots of stuff Peter’s always thought but never said, and stuff MJ’s always thought but never said, and every other page we’re greeted with another revelation about a character and we should have always known it but we were too stupid to see it, and in case you’re unclear about the "dead lover" mentioned in the first paragraph of this review, JMS slaps that Gwen Stacy button so hard and so often that he’s got the thumb callouses of a 24-hour Super NES marathon.

I don’t know. Maybe if I was the kind of hardcore Spidey fan with a firm, unswerving stance on the subject of organic webshooters, Sins Past might carry more emotional weight. I’m not, it doesn’t, and with a writer whose work I enjoy - particularly while writing a character I’ve tended to enjoy under his care - it’s disappointing.

Ancient Joe: el bizarron
Script and art by C. Scott Morse
Published by Dark Horse, $12.95 US

As the charming poem heading the trade explains, Ancient Joe - a seemingly ageless man with a face that looks a lot like Brak’s from Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast - was fished out of the ocean in 1943 with no memory of who or what he was. He eventually found his way to Cuba where he drank and boxed with Hemingway, married and watched his wife grow old and die as he remained unchanged, and eventually became both a local fixture on the island as well as a subject of legend.

Ancient Joe: el bizarron opens with Joe hitching a ride in the back of a pick-up truck. During the ride, he endures the jokes and prodding questions of two boys who recount the tale of the mythic figure they believe him to be: El Bizarron. In the story, Joe tricks the devil El Diablo out of two bags of silver; an event - we find out in a subsequent chapter - Joe fears may have cursed his dead wife to an unpleasant afterlife.

Until the third chapter, there really isn’t a very strong indication that the main character is on any kind of quest, or that he’s doing anything but wandering around Cuba for lack of better stuff to do. There’s a strangely satisfying feeling of, not inaction, but non-action or non-progress in Ancient Joe that eventually drives home how Joe’s physical quest is secondary to his self-discovery.

His ignorance of his past, the oversimplified dialogue between mythic characters (the back-and-forth between Joe and El Diablo reminded me a lot of the "Pretty OK Team" script from Project: SUPERIOR, though less steeped in parody), and his connection to a mystical world coupled with his confusion about the supernaturalism of which he is an integral part, makes Joe quite similar to Hellboy. You might say Ancient Joe is what Hellboy might be if Hellboy were more interested in soul-searching than monster-hunting. Joe hitches rides and hangs out in bars. While he is undoubtedly a creature of legend to the people he encounters, he’s also their drinking buddies. It’s as if Batman hung out in all-night diners with the "supersitious and cowardly lot" he bloodies up all the time. The half-hearted promise of every superhero subplot - that the reader would somehow care as much about the trials and tribulations of the hero’s "real life" problems than how he’s going to take down Doctor Doom - is made compulsory in Ancient Joe. You care more about the hero’s day-to-day than his violent nights.

Morse’s renderings of romantic Cuban landscapes, always eventually zooming in on nondescript hovels or crowded taverns, punctuates the mystical elements of the story as well as giving the reader a concrete feel of the communities where Joe hangs his hat. The artistic realization of the main character doesn’t always lend itself well to overt emotion. With a mask-like face that you’d be more likely to find carved into a pyramid in Indiana Jones or a native’s shield in Zulu, Ancient Joe ain’t big on facial expressions, though it makes it that much more affecting when he lets out a beaming smile at the end of the second chapter. Morse’s simple panel layout, usually just one long rectangular panel after another, gives the story a strange feeling of realism. For example, in one of the few action sequences in the book - Joe boxing an old friend as payment for a favor - the scene goes by in a flurry of fists of and torsos. The reader can never get the full picture, something like the first-person-view fisticuffs from certain issues of Priest’s Black Panther, and so feels more present in the scene without the God’s-eye view of most comics.

More than any of the trades reviewed for this first installment of Overdue Books I’ve found myself flipping through Ancient Joe even after a few thorough reads. I worry that, with this first book published in 2002 and no subsequent trades or floppies published, future volumes may not be forthcoming. Hopefully, I’m wrong. Ancient Joe: el bizarron is touching, funny, and at times disarmingly dark. If it takes a while, it will be worth the wait, but it would be a shame if Joe’s adventures were cut short.