Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cosmic Crisis (or, The Gods Must Hump Like Crazy)

Anyone who has the sometimes frustrating habit of surfing through Marvel fan message boards will be familiar with the debate – that has received more attention since the beginning of Infinite Crisis – of whether or not Marvel should have its own Crisis event to clean up continuity issues. I’ve never liked the idea, mainly because I didn’t like Crisis on Infinite Earths and consequently haven’t seen one panel of its recent sequel. I don’t know enough about DC continuity to figure out why anyone ever considered either to be necessary, and that’s part of the problem. I have difficulty figuring out the logic behind trying to rejuvenate a mythology – presumably in order to, among other things, draw in new readers – by publishing a massive storyline that only those with a relatively comprehensive knowledge of the history will be able to understand. Of course, the main reason I’d never want to see something like this with Marvel is because it would necessitate the kind of big, dumb crossover we just saw from DC.

As much as I disagree with the idea of a Marvel-wide Crisis, I can’t help but wonder if a specific section of the mythology couldn’t use a little Superboy-meets-wall treatment: namely, Marvel’s cosmic characters.

And that may seem like a stupid thing to say considering that Annihilation, perhaps Marvel’s biggest cosmic event since the days of Starlin’s various Infinity series (or, to be more precise, since the days that Starlin’s Infinity series had any impact on the rest of the MU) is already in full-swing. After reading all the Annihilation books published so far, however, it seems to me that the event is further proof that the problem exists rather than a solution to it.

I was expecting both more and less from Annihilation. By "less," I mean that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I have. Annihilation: Nova is certainly the most impressive of the prequel books, and I would be either genuinely surprised or unsurprisingly disappointed if the event doesn’t lead to an ongoing monthly for the character (hopefully with the same creative team as Annihilation: Nova). As Joel Hunt says over at Sleep is for Suckers: "Yes, Nova is basically Peter Parker in the Green Lantern Corps…but damnit, that’s not a bad concept to hang a character on." Annihilation: Silver Surfer doesn’t seem that much different or more interesting than the character’s previous series, but Renato Arlem’s art more than makes up for it. Annihilation: Super-Skrull is fun though not particularly memorable, and Annihilation: Ronan is the worst of the bunch, managing – in only four issues – to be as confusing as any dense crossover from either of the Big Two. Utilizing the Seven Soldiers model served the Annihilation prequels well, giving this cosmic war the kind of grandness such a story deserves, whereas in previous eras something like this would probably have been breezed through in one or two issues of Silver Surfer or Fantastic Four.

But, by saying I was expecting more, I meant that I was expecting something appreciably different about the particular characters and Marvel’s cosmic canvas as a whole. I was expecting some kind of redefinition of the thing. On that front, Annihilation simply hasn’t delivered. The only significant difference I can see is that villains like Drax, Super-Skrull, and Ronan are being treated as protagonists; and heroes like Nova and Silver Surfer have become much darker and, specifically, much more willing to kill. We’re not exactly going where no comic book has dared to go before.

I started to tune into exactly what it was that bothered me about Marvel’s cosmic stories while reading Annihilation: Silver Surfer, as two new characters – Tenebrous and Aegis – were introduced. The two are old enemies of Galactus and are freed during the attack of the Annihilation Wave. After a bit of reflection, I realized that my issue with Marvel’s cosmic stories is the same problem the Christians had with the pagans.


I’ve never followed the cosmic books as much as the kind of fans who can draw up charts to show how the Living Tribunal can bitch-slap Eternity or vice-versa. Still, ask me to name as many cosmic characters I can off the top of my head, and most of them will be the kind of Beyonder-level characters who seem to be able to do just about anything. It seems like there are more omnipotent-y characters in Marvel’s cosmos than just your average super-guys. The gods are legion in space, there’s too many to name, and no matter how indefinable and powerful they are, all of them seem to manifest their powers in the same way: as ‘splody laser beams shooting of their hands and/or eyes.

I think the relative lack of cosmic stories in recent years has made the problem worse. I imagine that when Silver Surfer was coming out every month, the writers knew they couldn’t just spit out a new uber-god each issue. Now, with the rarity of cosmic stories, it seems like the writers feel that they need to create a new I-can-eat-your-planet-and-fart-a-solar-system character in order to make the thing feel as BIG as possible. In fact, I can’t think of one post-2000 cosmic story that didn’t introduce such a character. There’s the aforementioned duo in Annihilation: Silver Surfer, Stormbreaker: The Saga of Beta Ray Bill had some uber space demon as well as some invisible god guys who resurrected Bill for no discernible reason, Infinity Abyss featured some freaky Thanos clones and one of them – if I remember correctly – was a mix between Thanos and Galactus, Entropy from the first story arc of Captain Marvel’s final volume, and then there was that Pharaoh dude from Marvel Universe: The End. Being all-powerful is as commonplace in Marvel’s cosmos as having superpowers is in Top Ten.

(SPOILER WARNING: I’m about to reveal a significant Annihilation plot point.)

And just like wearing a cape means less than nothing in Neopolis, being a god in Marvel’s cosmos doesn’t mean a damn thing, and the proof is in the stories. The first issue of Annihilation ends with what may be the death of Galactus. Probably not, but if he is in fact dead, who cares? How many times has he died at this point? Yeah, you could say the same thing about most Marvel characters, but most Marvel characters don’t eat fucking planets. The integrity of a character like Galactus depends on his NOT being killed every other time he shows up. Likewise, in spite of the rarity of cosmic stories these days, I can think of exactly two 21st century appearances of Eternity, and in both cases (Captain Marvel and the Giffen/DeMatteis Defenders mini) he was killed.

None of this is to say that Marvel’s cosmos shouldn’t have a rich pantheon of gods in sci-fi clothing. But it seems to me that the pantheon is overcrowded and, worse, the idea of a godlike character is being diminished by overuse. A while back I wrote a post about how the various Star Trek series ran into creative dead-ends and constantly fell back on time travel as a plot device. Marvel’s cosmic stories suffer from something similar. Just about every cosmic story has something to do with a new god rising and trying to kill an old god, and no matter who wins – since no one stays dead in comics – the result is too many fucking planet-eaters. Marvel’s cosmos should have its gods, but being a god should mean something.

This is why I think, while I’m loathe see it happen all across the MU, a Crisis-esque wiping of the cosmic characters might be just what the doctor ordered. Thin out the gods, re-establish some of them, and make them feel like gods in more than name. If not through some kind of reality-altering story, then just have some mean motherfucker slaughter all but a few (of course, a lot of characters are getting whacked in Annihilation, but mainly heroes and villains, not the the big guys). Using another Star Trek analogy, Q wouldn’t have been as beloved a character if he showed up in every episode, or if every other villain was just as powerful. Likewise, Marvel should use its space gods sparingly. And when the writers do bring in Galactus or Eternity or some other big god guy, it shouldn’t be just to slaughter them. If the focus came off the space gods, maybe it would give the "House of Ideas" more time to develop new heroes (or re-establish old ones) in order to give the cosmic fans an ongoing monthly or two rather than your occasional mini-series.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Smooth Criminal

No doubt spurred to action by the early death of Sleeper, Alan Doane has premiered A Criminal Blog, dedicated to the upcoming Marvel/Icon series Criminal.

Criminal re-unites the Sleeper team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and according to ADD's review of Criminal #1, it's about goddamned time.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Incredible Hulk #100

(cross-posted at Green Days)

Marvel released a solicitation for Incredible Hulk #100 at yesterday's Joe Friday's column.

Be warned, below there be SPOILERS!!!

I'm not only surprised at the revelations of this solicitation, but at the fact it was released at all! It gives away two pretty major plot points: 1) that whatever comes of the conflict between Hulk and Miek that we just saw at the end of Hulk #97, apparently they emerge as comrades, and 2) Caiera Oldstrong, the character who has - so far - been pumped up as perhaps the most dangerous of Hulk's adversaries, has joined forces with him! And remember, we're still waiting to see the issue where Hulk and Caiera fight!

You know, it's funny. I'm not going to provide a link because the effort wouldn't be worth it, and I don't want to embarass the poster in question, but maybe a month ago on the CBR forums, I read a post from a guy complaining that Marvel had "lied to us." He wasn't complaining about scheduling or shoddy treatment of creators. He was complaining about Marvel's misleads in their advertising. For example, he complained about the covers to recent issues of Fantastic Four that suggested Doctor Doom might pick up Thor's hammer. At the time, I thought the guy was stupid to the degree that he should get special parking for it. First of all, it's not like misleading covers are anything new in the industry. Second of all, the guy was basically complaining that the story was NOT spoiled for him beforehand.

But now that I think about it, it's difficult to dismiss the guy's complaints. When Marvel readers get used to having the solicits give them all the info rather than the comics, what else should they expect?

I decided to make Incredible Hulk an exception to my no-floppy/GN-only rule, at least for the duration of "Planet Hulk" (and perhaps beyond), but now I'm thinking that was a dumb decision. If I hadn't been reading "Planet Hulk" issue-by-issue, this wouldn't be a problem. Even if I saw the solicit before the hardcover collection was released, in most likelihood it wouldn't have stuck with me. Sure I'd probably have to wait until, at the earliest, late next year for the hardcover, but at least I could read the story without knowing everything beforehand rather than being spoiled by the solicit.

I realize this is relatively minor compared to the big clusterfuck over the rescheduling of Civil War, but it pissed me off. I may just decide to drop Hulk, ignore the solicits, and wait until the HC comes out.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Daily Burn is dead, long live Superheroes, etc.

You know how - with ASM and FF, among others - Marvel decided to continue with the original numbering, apparently because they figured that 10 years from now even all the relaunches since the 90's wouldn't confuse new readers enough? That's how I feel right now.

As you may know, I originally blogged on a site called the Daily Burn. I abandoned that blog in late 2005 for Superheroes, etc. But, I kept the blog up and even some of the links you'll find on my sidebar linked to it.

I have just finished copying and pasting the most relevant posts from the Burn into Superheroes, etc., back-dating them so they appear in the archive rather than crowding the recent posts (they all have their original dates and times), and finally deleting The Daily Burn for good. I'm pretty sure I've updated all the links in the sidebar to reflect this, but if you notice anything out of whack, let me know. I apologize to anyone who gets ticked off by this, but I couldn't figure out a way to transfer the comments from the Burn into the posts here.

In part, I did this to get organized. Unfortunately, the idea arose because of something a bit more unnerving.

Since happily accepting ADD's invitation to make Superheroes, etc. a satellite site for Comic Book Galaxy, I've had a significant increase in hits (by the way, thanks both to ADD for the invitation and to all the readers who have been kind enough to stop by Superheroes, etc.). I was checking the hits yesterday and noticed a surprisingly large number of them were coming from the Daily Burn.

The reason, I soon realized, was a bit of a satirical piece I posted some time ago. The original concept of the Daily Burn was that it would be a comic book version of The Onion. I posted mock news articles for laughs. I quickly abandoned that idea, preferring straight commentary. But before the gears shifted, I wrote a mock article titled "STUDY CONFIRMS: NINJAS SUCK." It was poking fun at both the relegation of what have always been nigh-unbeatable warriors into mere cannon fodder in superhero comics; and the fact that so many TV shows, movies, comics, etc., portrayed ninjas as heroes when - as far as I know - in real life they were paid assassins.

Even though the Burn was completely dormant, this parody continued to draw steady attention, particularly from message boards dedicated to arguing over whether Ninjas were better than Pirates (something the second issue of Street Angel had fun with). I don't know where the whole Ninjas vs. Pirates thing came from, but it was funny and harmless, and I thought it was cool these N v. P guys were putting links to the article in their sigs.

Unfortunately, in the last few days something a bit more disturbing happened. There were hits to the Daily Burn coming from a martial arts dojo's message board, and in particular someone responded to the article saying that I would be killed in my sleep. There were a few other angry, non-threatening posts. At first, I took it as a joke. I still think it was a joke. But this is the Internet, and one of the downfalls of the net is that you can't hear the voice behind the words, and unless they say "I'm kidding," or put one of those winky-smiley things in their post, you never really know, do you? And I know there are people who are into martial arts (I certainly hope it's the minority) who get very stupid about it and might actually try to make good on their threats. At my first college I worked at the campus radio station, and we had to kick out a DJ who pulled a fucking samurai sword on another DJ because he hadn't met him and thought he was trying to break into the place. That's the kind of guy I worry about.

So basically, I wanted to distance myself from the Burn as much as possible, and this was something I had been considering anyway.

Peruse the archives if you'd like. They now go back to July 2004. I brought over all the reviews and all the relevant commentary. The only stuff I didn't bring over were posts like "I haven't posted in a while because I'm busy" and "Hey, this site over here is updated!" Oh, and obviously the Ninja article and all the other mock articles are gone.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Doctor Mid-Nite

By Matt Wagner, John K. Snyder III, and Ken Bruzenak
Published by DC; $19.95 US/$31.00 CAN
Collects Doctor Mid-Nite #1-#3

It was, in part, Tim O’Neil’s review of Martian Manhunter #1 that persuaded me to review Doctor Mid-Nite. Tim’s commentary regarding the never-ending revamping of J’onn J’onzz put me in mind of all the recent and upcoming won’t-last-more-than-a-year revamps of never-selling characters at both Marvel and DC, which in turn reminded of one of the few examples – of which I’m aware – of a creative team doing the thing right.

Which isn’t to say that I’m at all familiar with the original Doctor Mid-Nite, and in fact I’m fairly ignorant concerning the more complex continuity elements of the DCU. That’s hardly a weakness in reading Doctor Mid-Nite though, as Wagner gives us a brand new character in an updated guise.

In a rare example of a superhero comic achieving the narrative goal that every writer of masked crusaders claims is his, but rarely meets, the man behind the mask is what drives Doctor Mid-Nite. The proof is in the simple fact that, while reading the first chapter of the trade, I was getting very impatient with a reveal that would never come.

Let me explain. Doctor Mid-Nite is narrated by Carmilla Marlowe, a young web designer and wanna-be novelist suffering from a rare condition that causes her skin to burn when in direct sunlight. The only help Marlowe has found for her predicament is A39, an illegal steroid. Marlowe meets Dr. Cross, who quickly sniffs out the woman’s illness, while getting a fix from her regular dealer. Cross convinces Marlowe to let him treat her condition without the drug, and eventually Carmilla learns her mysterious doctor is into more than just giving free medical advice to self-medicating web designers. She accompanies him as he donates medical supplies to homeless shelters, condoms to prostitutes, distracts himself by dabbling in robotics and molecular chemistry, and apparently wrangles in reformed gang-bangers – among others – to act as muscle and reconnaissance in his altruistic endeavors. In fact, the only reason he runs into Marlowe is because he takes it upon himself to do some undercover research on A39. When a scientist developing a chemical to fight oil spills is kidnapped, Cross gets involved. A bartender in the employ of the kidnappers poisons Cross with A39, and the effects force Cross into a car accident. While attempting to help his unintended victims, Cross is blinded when the engine of their car explodes. He eventually discovers that, like his predecessor, somehow the combination of the A39 and the accident manage to blind him only in the daytime, while he can see perfectly in darkness.

The reveal I referred to above, that I was waiting for and that never came; was of how we were going to find out, before his accident, that Cross was already donning a mask and fighting evil. The guy had a space-age house with an electronic voice as his butler. He spent all his time helping people he didn’t have to help, while at the same time investigating crime. Before he even donned a costume, he felt like equal parts Batman and the older, more theatrical pulp heroes. The fact that he wasn’t already a superhero threw me for a loop, and it felt strangely refreshing to meet a character who was a bonafide hero before he became a superhero. The accident that blinds him isn’t what inspires him to go on a crusade, it’s what enables to him to fight the crusades he’s already fighting on a more direct level. The costume and the pseudonym almost feel unimportant. They don’t represent a Batman/Wayne duality, but rather a simple necessity in order to give him a hook and inject him into the world of superheroes. Because of this, in spite of the deliciously cheesy lines he sometimes belts out and the uber-renaissance man that would be tough to swallow in a less "super" medium; Doctor Mid-Nite is one of the most believable, fallible, and altogether human superhero characters I’ve come across.

Humanizing superheroes is one of Wagner’s greatest strengths, and here it doesn’t stop with merely the concept of a hero-turned-superhero. One thing that bothers me about the majority of superhero comics – and it’s something that’s become so commonplace that it’s only when I read something like Doctor Mid-Nite, or watch a show like Batman: The Animated Series or Justice League that I’m even reminded of it – is how writers pander to the versus-debate crowd by fearing to portray their lead characters as anything but well-oiled ass-kicking machines. The possibility that the hero might actually lose is a joke not worth mentioning, and the idea of a genuinely suspenseful superhero comic is equally laughable. If there are any Marvel readers left who can ask "Oh, but could Wolverine possibly win this fight?", I both envy their ignorance and pity them for what could only be a crushing disappointment when they hear back from Mensa.

Doctor Mid-Nite, thankfully, is no well-oiled ass-kicker. Moments after his first genuine "super" battle – a relatively short tussle with a steroid-amped thug – he collapses in exhaustion. Later in the trade, when another thug shoots at him, he doesn’t duck. He doesn’t leap-frog with ease through a web of bullet motion-lines. He gets. Fucking. SHOT. Even in the end, he fails to completely stop the machinations of the bad guys.

And his crusade is no "one-man war against crime!" Before he even dons the mask, Cross develops a vast network of allies. The beefcake Nite-Lite, the weasely and homeless Lemon, the mute lawyer Mouthpiece, and eventually Carmilla back him up every step of the way. We never get the usual, this-is-something-I-have-to-do-alone-I-can’t-ask-you-to-put-yourself-in-harm’s-way-I’m-the-guy-on-the-cover-of-the-comic, ASSHOLE. In the climactic battle of the trade, Doctor Mid-Nite does the unthinkable. He calls the feds for back-up. He calls duly authorized law enforcement agents who are actually legally mandated to do this kind of shit and, get this, actually tells them what’s going on! It’s like the world’s turned upside down! Are me and Brad Pitt the same person? Am I really dead and that creepy kid’s too much of an asshole to tell me? What’s in the box? WHAT’S IN THE FUCK-ING BOX?!?!?!

What I’ve neglected to mention so far is John K. Snyder’s beautiful hand-painted illustrations. Before picking up this trade I was a little disappointed that Wagner had not, as usual, penciled his own story, but Snyder’s work makes up for it. His wild coloring and panel design make every page different from the next, and his hard edges and tendency to illustrate the more muscleman-y characters from feet-to-shoulders in a big, menacing "V" is reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz ( = good thing).

I don’t know if Wagner or Snyder ever had ambitions for Doctor Mid-Nite to become a regular monthly (and considering that Wagner seems to prefer working on mini-series, my guess would be they didn’t), but if so, then the welcome failure of Pieter Cross to feel like any other hero on the stands is probably to blame for its absence.

If you’ve never read Doctor Mid-Nite and somehow my review has managed to spark your interest, but you’re concerned with what seems like a fairly high price tag for the collection of a 3-issue mini, don’t be. Like another mini from Wagner, Trinity, each chapter of Doctor Mid-Nite is close to 50 pages long, and I’d wager it will read better than most of the other DC or Marvel trades you might find out there, regardless of length.

Linkage - ADD interviews Brubaker/Leong bashes Wizard

Alan Doane puts Five Questions to Ed Brubaker, mainly concerning the new Brubaker/Phillips series Criminal, and also some discussion of the regrettably late series by the duo, Sleeper.

Also, via Just A Fanboy, I found a video blog clip from Comic Foundry in which Tim Leong takes pot-shots at Wizard.

A debate in the comments section of the Foundry's blog is brewing. I got into it a little bit, talking about the subject of obectification of women on Wizard's covers. In a nutshell I said, yeah, objectification is bad, but complaining about the objectification on Wizard's covers is a little bass-ackwards, considering how women are objectified in the comics the magazine writes about. It's not, as Leong seemed to think, a matter of journalistic integrity in my mind. It's a matter of a magazine accurately reflecting the disgusting treatment of female characters in top-selling comics. You want Wizard to stop putting fanboy stroke material on their covers, tell Marvel and DC to stop drawing their women like the "money shot" is just a few pages away. Otherwise, it's like complaining that a historical journal covering war focuses on violence too much.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fantastic Four: Unthinkable

By Mark Waid, Mike Wieringo, Casey Jones, Paul Mounts, Chris Eliopoulus, Rus Wooton, and Paolo Rivera
Published by Marvel; $17.99 US/$29.00 CAN
Collects Fantastic Four #67-#70, #500-#502

I had mixed feelings about picking up Unthinkable. I started my floppy-fast shortly after the Waid/Wieringo run began, the return of Doctor Doom enjoyed some nice buzz when it came out in single issues, and so initially I was looking forward to the trade. The fact that the trade quickly disappeared from the relatively comprehensive Marvel/DC graphic novel shelves at my local comic shop and – at least whenever I’ve remembered to check – has since failed to reappear, further convinced me it was worth tracking down. But then I managed to get a copy of Rising Storm – the trade collecting the final Waid/Wieringo FF issues – and was pretty under-whelmed.

Unthinkable manages to live up to its name in more ways than one, not the least of which being that it’s the only collection of issues from the FF’s home title that I now consider essential to my collection.

The first chapter is perhaps the most impressive, following Doctor Doom – sans armor or any other technological enhancements, save a simple metal mask covering his face – through a Georgia tourist trap as he hops from one fortune teller to the next in search of his wayward lover, Valeria. The story ends with a grisly and wonderfully executed surprise, made that much more effective by Waid’s ability to humanize Doom (I’d imagine his past work on Empire served him well while working on Unthinkable). Even though I’ve never been a big FF fan, I’ve always had a soft spot for Doom (it was the only thing that made me regret trading off the largely disappointing Essential Super-Villain Team-Up a few weeks ago), and Waid handles him just the way I like him: quietly menacing at times, while occasionally belting out the traditional, booming decrees and threats that should always end with “I AM DOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The second chapter opens with the same relatively light-hearted tone the Waid/Wieringo run presented its reader before Unthinkable, with Ben and Johnny locked in their constant war of practical jokes, and it almost feels like the entire pre-Unthinkable run was so light just to knock readers off-balance once Doom came back to the playground. I can’t claim to be an avid FF reader, but I’ve seen good chunks of the book, and I’ve never seen it get as dark as it does in this collection. The characters endure the kind of violent torture that’s only a few drops of blood away from your average mature readers superhero series, and while I’ve yet to test it by reading subsequent trades, by the end of the story it feels like the emotional aftershocks will keep coming.

In particular, Franklin goes to the kind of dark place you always imagine he would “really” go to, but never has. I’ve never felt it was overly important to give readers of a superhero comic book a story that shows what would “really” happen (because, duh, radiation doesn’t “really” give you super powers, it “really” makes you bleed out of every hole in your body and die), but Franklin’s always pushed the limits of my patience with the kind of it’s-just-a-comic-book mentality I’ve assumed to excuse what would be unacceptable in another fictional medium. It’s always bothered me that with all Franklin’s been through he’s never suffered anything close to the kind of trauma any child would experience from events not nearly as bizarre and devastating as he’s witnessed. Like I said before, I haven’t read tons of FF, but just off the top of my head I can think of stories like Onslaught and Heroes Reborn: The Return in which Franklin was put in a position that would drive any kid his age completely bugfuck. In Unthinkable, we finally see Franklin suffer the chilling after-effects of his parent’s lifestyle. We never know exactly what Franklin endures while under the care of the demons who lend Doom his magical might, but Waid uses a wonderful device in the penultimate chapter of the trade – involving a discussion between Reed, Sue, and Franklin’s therapist – to be non-specific enough to keep the book kid-friendly, while planting seeds in the darker adult minds. My only complaint with this aspect of the story is that, while it’s made clear that Frankin’s trauma lasts until after Unthinkable, there’s a specific symptom of his trauma that’s “cured” by a speech from Ben, and it comes off as just a little too easy.

While I hate giving away well-executed jokes in my reviews, I’m finding it difficult to not produce what is now one of my favorite lines ever in a superhero comic book. It actually made me laugh out loud, which is rare, even with books that are genuinely hilarious cover-to-cover. I won’t reveal the context, but I think the line all on its own is enough:

“This had better not involve Davy Crockett again. You’ve already given that man too much trouble.”

I don’t know why, that just killed me.

Overall, a surprisingly great read. Almost all the FF stories that have ever managed to capture my interest have been mini-series like Big in Japan and Unstable Molecules. Unthinkable is a welcome exception.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Feeling particularly PC

So, as anyone who's ever read this blog with any kind of regularity knows, I work at a public radio station as a control board operator.

I'm not usually interested enough in the shows we air during my shift to pay any more attention than I need to (i.e., I need to know whether or not it's broadcasting, and whether or not anyone's swearing, and it pretty much stops there), the sole exception being This American Life. My station airs the show on Friday night, and last night's show actually managed to piss me off a little bit.

The show, which I'm fairly certain was a repeat (they've been airing a lot of them lately), was titled "Last Words" and it focused on the thoughts, words, and actions during the final moments of life. A little over halfway through the show, the host interviewed an author who had put together a book of Black Box transcripts.

The first thing that struck me was that something seemed particularly stupid about airing a story like that right after the London air-bomb scare. I kissed my girlfriend goodbye today as she left for the airport - bound for Chicago - and while I wasn't exactly shaking in my boots over the thing, I'd be lying if I said it wasn't in the back of my mind. I can't believe I'm the only person, or the only This American Life listener, with a loved one on an airplane today. Maybe from the point of view of the show's producers it would seem silly to air another show just for that, but like I said, they've been broadcasting nothing but repeats lately. How much trouble would it have been to air one that didn't include a somewhat morbid discussion (it was touching, and even funny, as well, but the morbid was still very much there) about the last words of pilots during a time when you can't bring so much as nail polish on a plane?

The other thing that pissed me off, and this is where I really felt the PC boiling, was an anecdote about a China Airlines flight that crashed. The author told the story after the host prompted him by saying that, in some of these transcripts, it was clear that the pilots died because of "sheer stupidity." If I remember correctly, the plane was coming down too fast, the pilots were blinded by fog, and the Black Box recorded the sound of the man in the control tower screaming "Pull up! Pull up!" over the pilot's headphones. The last words of the pilot were "What means 'Pull up?'"

So, presuming the pilot of the China Airlines flight was Chinese, then the fact that a Chinese man isn't fluent in English is an example of "sheer stupidity?"

I don't know. Maybe I'm making too much out of it. I should say that if the show wasn't so fucking phenomenal, I wouldn't bother to complain in the first place. And in spite of the fact that I think this was an inappropriate time for this show, it was up to their usual standard of excellence. They ended with a short story by Tobias Wolff that nearly brought me to tears. They just usually tend to be more sensitive about these things.

Likely, the China Airlines piece wouldn't even have upset me if the Black Box story as a whole hadn't already struck a nerve.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Review - The Incredible Hulk #97

The Incredible Hulk #97
By Greg Pak, Aaron Lopresti, Danny Miki, Chris Sotomayor, Randy Gentile, and Ladrönn
$2.99 US

WAR! What is it good for? The best Hulk storyline this side of 1998, that’s what.

Last issue brought us the opening shots, and the fierce revolt we’ve been waiting for breaks out across Sakaar in "Planet Hulk: Anarchy, Part 2." The Red King rains fire down on his subjects in Crown City, Hulk and his allies invade the Maw, and dissension brews in the ranks as the Hulk grows unsure of how much blood he’s willing to spill.

This last aspect of the issue is my favorite. While reveling in battle and still close to his "warbound" companions, we see the Hulk questioning his own thirst for revenge as it’s mirrored in characters like Elloe and Miek. His search for his own humanity comes in conflict with his loyalty and his darker self, and eventually it leads him to try to do what he’s always done: remove himself from the situation and strike out on his own. Pak doesn’t give us any narration or inner dialogue to betray Hulk’s thoughts, and even his dialogue is sparse, but his actions show us everything. And I should mention the green guy’s attempt to separate himself from his allies leads to one of the best endings we’ve seen so far in "Planet Hulk."

But something’s been bothering me ever since "Planet Hulk: Anarchy" began and I think I’ve finally put my finger on it.

While it started out as a gladiator story, "Planet Hulk" has become a war epic, and with open war finally breaking out on Sakaar, I’m hungry as hell for the kind of big double-page spreads of battle scenes that saw so much overuse in CrossGen’s late titles. Obviously, pumping those pages out every issue didn't save CrossGen from drowning, but "Planet Hulk" feels like the kind of storyline that that kind of treatment could serve. I’m hungry for big, Brath-y, silent panels of nothing but swords, lasers, big freaking axes and blood, blood, blood!

But I’m not putting that in the minus column just yet. I’m trusting that Hulk’s creative team is doing what the creators of CrossGen never learned to do: building up to the big moments rather than killing the effect by filling each issue with nothing but those scenes. And the fact that I’m so bloodthirsty for it is probably more of a testament to a skillful building of suspense than anything else.

No BS. No pandering. It has been so long that I could say something like "I can’t believe I have to wait a month for the next issue!" about Hulk or any other comic for that matter. And it feels good.