Monday, January 31, 2011

Top 10 reasons why Bruce Banner's pants don't come off when he turns into the Hulk

10. Elastic waistbands. Wal-Mart has some sweet deals, dude.

9. How many pairs of purple pants have you seen? Those suckers are tough to replace. He doesn't have much of a costume, but goddammit, he needs to protect what he has.

8. He's got a tattoo on his left ass-cheek. He usually isn't embarrassed about stuff like that, but it's of Superman's "S" logo. Moral of the story - don't ever pass out drunk with Jon Bon Jovi after trashing Newark. He's a motherfucker.

7. Tan lines.

6. Sometimes, they do come off, but he wears a second pair of pants under his first pair. Hulk no like going commando.

5. Strength of will.

4. Double stitches.

3. Unstable molecules. What? Everyone accepts that bullshit when the Fantastic Four says it. Racist.

2. Some people thinks he dyes his hair. He likes to to maintain some mystery.

1. If his pants came off, there'd be a big green cock flapping around everywhere. Excelsior!

(this post brought to you by the letter H and A Busy Weekend)

Friday, January 28, 2011


This piece was originally published at Comic Book Galaxy in 2005. This is why you will find references to Peter David's "upcoming" return to writing duties on Incredible Hulk (a brief run that was rudely interrupted by "House of M"). I've once again become a regular visitor to ComicBoards' Incredible Hulk message board, and I was reminded of this piece when earlier this week the poster Abby asked other Hulk fans about their favorite Incredible Hulk creator finales.

I’ve been working on this fucking thing since last November.

Actually, that’s not true. I first got the idea after reading Alan Doane’s wonderful exploration of Frank Miller’s final issue of Daredevil, and if the date in the URL is right, that makes it July of 2004, meaning I’ve been working on this piece for the better part of a year. November was just when I sent ADD the e-mail to see if he’d want it.

Yeah, there are peripheral factors that could explain my procrastination: working and going to school full-time, helping my mother with her various medical issues, every now and then trying to squeeze in time to pay attention to the nice woman who’s kind enough to sleep with me, etc.

The real problem, I think, is that I’ve tried to be very professional. Detached. Unbiased. Every time I’ve started to write a review of The Incredible Hulk #467, "The Lone and Level Sands" -- the last issue of Peter David’s original twelve-year run on the title -- I’ve tried to write it from the perspective of someone who isn’t a shamefully loyal Hulk-nut; who doesn’t see every empty space in his collection of David’s Hulk as an unpardonable sin; who didn’t absolutely dread the idea of publishing online negative reviews of Peter David’s work and considered it a Herculean act of bravery when he finally did; who didn’t initially consider turning down his girlfriend’s offer to cohabit because he was afraid her cats might break his Randy Bowen Hulk statue; who didn’t leave his girlfriend alone to eat lunch in a pizza parlor because he was afraid he might not be thirty minutes early to the Hulk film; whose forgiving girlfriend didn’t buy green drapes for their office (once he capitulated to cohabitation, after realizing the statue was much too heavy for the cats to topple) to match his Hulk posters. And mirrors. And clocks. And stickers. And action figures, model kits, coloring books, baby shoes, coffee mugs, twisty straws, Christmas ornaments, mini-busts, stamps, cards, bobble heads, key chains, sunglasses, board games, lunchboxes, wastebaskets, baseballs, cardboard stands, t-shirts, matchbox cars, electronic talking hands, and probably some other stuff (mostly green).

But I can’t, and considering the genius of "The Lone and Level Sands," it’s only the truly bugfuck-crazy Hulkophile who can see how masterful David’s finale was, and why.

The entire story is told in flashback, with an aged, chain-smoking Rick Jones recounting the aftermath of Betty Banner’s death (she dies in the previous issue) on the tenth anniversary of her demise to a Daily Bugle reporter. Most of the story is told in double-page spreads with Jones’s hand -- a cigarette scissored in-between his index and middle fingers, the smoke curling up the sides of the pages and through the gutters–breaking only to return to Jones at the end as his eyes grow heavier, the ashtray gets more crowded, the fire grows smaller, and the various superhero paraphernalia (alluding to the vast trophy chamber seen in Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect) are swallowed by the shadows.

David and Adam Kubert create a beautiful montage of the aftermath of Betty’s death–from the more familiar scenes like old Thunderbolt Ross stupidly blasting at the Hulk with a handgun; to the tragic grace of a grinning Bruce Banner taking a swan dive off the Empire State Building.

Through Jones we learn of Bruce’s first suicide attempt, his subsequent imprisonment, his escape, a brief glimpse at the Hulk’s future battles and adventures (most of which, of course, have yet to come if ever, though Chris Cooper may or may not have been attempting to be faithful to the reference of a "face-to-face with Namor" with the Hulk/Sub-Mariner 1998 Annual), Betty’s funeral and the gathering of superheroes it drew, and a final meeting between Jones and Bruce Banner. David throws in the fates of some of the series’ peripheral figures (e.g., the citizens of Freehold, the vengeful Armageddon, and the time-traveling Janis Jones) for good measure.

Something always nagged at me after re-reads of the story, and it didn’t take me too long to figure out what. As much as I’ve long considered it the perfect Hulk tale, there was something about it that simply made no sense. The title, "The Lone and Level Sands," is the thing.

The line comes from a Percy Shelley poem that Banner recites to Jones as his long time sidekick visits him in prison after his first suicide attempt. The poem speaks of Ozymandias, "King of Kings," and the traveler who finds his shattered statue in the desert. "I can see it, Rick," Bruce tells Jones. "The broken legs standing, the cuffs torn. The Hulk’s feet. And that broken face, lying half-buried in the desert...My life, a shattered ruin."

A powerful image, but does it fit? This is the Hulk we’re talking about. The poem is about a man who built a kingdom, but succumbed to the inevitable. How is the analogous to the Hulk? What has the Hulk built? And what has Banner built, besides the Hulk? What did either create that’s worth mourning its destruction?

The answer is that it isn’t strictly the Hulk who David is talking about. David blatantly injects himself into the story from the very first page–the unseen Daily Bugle reporter is named Peter (and for a nice little double entendre, we all know someone else who’s worked for that rag with the same first name).

Most often we hear David through Rick. David purportedly left the title over a creative dispute regarding the future of the Hulk, and Jones refers to Betty’s death as "the day the Hulk started down the road he never wanted to travel." Rick’s final monologue can easily be read as David’s farewell to his readers: "I could keep on telling stories about the Hulk...keep on going...but there’s other things in life, you know? It’s like what Bruce told me. Realize what’s, loved ones...that’s the important thing." He includes a continuity loophole for subsequent writers who would doubtlessly steer clear of his version of the Hulk’s future: "So maybe I’m an alternate timeline. Who knows what’s really fated or ‘official?’" He ends fittingly with, "I’ve said enough."

David switches seats in the narration, from Rick to the reporter to the Hulk himself. We hear him lamenting his departure from the series when Banner laments the loss of Betty during a meeting with Rick in a military prison, but when he subsequently transforms into the Hulk, Rick tells us, "I’d seen so many things in his eyes over the years. Anger, resentment, betrayal, exhaustion...but in all those years...I’d never seen him look at me that way...with envy. And then he was gone." Considering we already know this is apparently the road the Hulk, "never wanted to travel," it seems likely the Hulk’s envy is leveled at David himself: the writer who will escape this unwanted path, while the Hulk will remain. During Rick’s last meeting with Banner, Bruce leaves him with, "Sometimes it’s best to move on," and in a nice symbolic gesture the scene opens with Bruce sitting in Rick’s wheelchair. Even the unseen reporter switches places. Despite his first name, he often resembles the reader more closely than the writer: "Look...I hate to keep you...but there’re so many other things I’d like to hear..."

But while David wrestles with his own demons throughout the story, it’s far from self-indulgent. Ultimately, the Ozymandias/Hulk analogy does fit, because of the one theme that consistently distinguished Peter David’s Hulk from those that came before and after.

Contrary to popular opinion, not all Hulk fans were happy with Peter David’s interpretation of their favorite muscleman, particularly in the case of the so-called "Merged" or (the name that Paul Jenkins’s misreading of David’s run helped him create) "Professor" Hulk: an incarnation that came about after Doc Samson brought Bruce Banner’s personality together with that of the childlike green Hulk and the thuggish gray one. A cunning, green strongman with the IQ of a rocket scientist is what emerged, though when you strip away the bigger words and not-quite-as-tattered clothes, on the surface the Merged Hulk was never really much different than his savage counterpart. You could often throw a "Hulk" or a "puny" into the Merged Hulk’s dialogue with predictable results, often changing a line like "Pathetic humans. Getting in my way," (Incredible Hulk #383) to "Puny humans! Always getting in Hulk’s way!"

Ambition is what distinguished David’s Hulk from the previous interpretations, which probably has more to do with some fans’ dislike of Peter David’s tenure on the title than anything else. He didn’t have to count on money he’d stitched into his pants which would somehow survive a fall from orbit after battling the Toad Men. He didn’t have to sleep in the woods or in the houses of trusting strangers. The Hulk had been the world’s most powerful hobo, even stealing food from the campfires of homeless men and family reunion picnics in some stories. By gathering some semblance of control over his life, Bruce Banner and his alter-ego became less pure in some eyes, and perhaps less of a hero. Ambition is what made the Maestro of Future Imperfect -- an evil, future version of the Hulk who ruled over the last vestige of humanity on a post-apocalyptic Earth . It’s why the Hulk’s membership into, and eventual leadership of, the Pantheon -- a paramilitary group of that intervened in international crises without official sanction, whose founder was eventually revealed to be much less altruistic than he originally claimed -- was so important to the Hulk’s development. It was the first time since that fateful day in New Mexico that either Banner or the Hulk had wielded any kind of power or control, except the kind that came from an emerald fist.

Part of what makes this story the perfect ending not only to Peter David’s initial run on Incredible Hulk, but to the story of the Hulk as a whole, is that it’s less than an ending, and at the same time it’s so much more.

It’s the ongoing aspect of superhero comics that both renders the characters immortal and makes them less than characters. Stories end. Superheroes do not. They’re like endless porn scenes. The money shot’s never gonna come. If Luke Skywalker were a superhero, Vader’s emphysema would still fill theater speakers every few years. If Frodo were a superhero, he’d still be stumbling towards Mount Doom. If William Wallace were a superhero, he’d be wrestling the Brits for centuries to come (and it would probably be a CrossGen book). Stories end. Characters die. A story that never ends is not a story. A character that never dies is not a character: it’s a franchise.

Peter David achieved the impossible with Incredible Hulk #467, by circumventing the necrophilia of the superhero genre. Before bowing out of the green-sometimes-gray goliath’s franchise, he wrote the endless finale to a story that can’t ever end. And while, upon reading it, you will know that it’s a story that only Peter David could write, it’s a story you’ve known for a long time. You’ve felt it in your bones. David wrote it, but you knew it before you read it. David wrote it, but so did Lee and Thomas and Wein and Stern and Mantlo. Despite the fact that the Hulk series continues, despite the various limited series and guest appearances, despite even David’s own Incredible Hulk: The End, "The Lone and Level Sands" is the last Hulk story. It’s the only Hulk story. And it’s certainly the best.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

10 Memorable Super Brawls

Tom Spurgeon listed five superhero fights he likes on Sunday. It seemed like a fun topic, so here I'm aping him.

I'm very proud of myself for only listing two Hulk fights. It wasn't easy. I've easily read more issues of Incredible Hulk than any other single comic and he's a character known for his brawls so when considering which fights to include, it was tough to steer my mind away from the default. Since I have a Friday Hulk column, I think I may need to write up a separate Memorable Hulk Brawls soon.

There is no ranking. I chose 10 because it's a nice, round number but their order is only indicative of when I thought of them.

--Afrodisiac vs. Hercules in Afrodisiac

This could easily have been Afrodisiac vs. Megapute or Afrodisiac vs. Dracula. I chose this one because I adore the panel where Afrodisiac smashes the mug into Hercules's face. I think it's amazing that Jim Rugg, in comics that are supposed to be parodies of superhero books, manages to draw brawls much more dynamic and interesting than the fights in the "real" superhero titles.

--Daredevil vs. Nuke in Daredevil #233

Daredevil: Born Again doesn't feel like it's leading to this specific battle. After all, you don't meet Nuke until the previous issue. Regardless, the fact that Matt Murdock is so very un-Daredevil throughout the storyline acts as wonderful build-up to the confrontation between Daredevil and Nuke. You hardly ever see him in his costume until this issue and in some ways the comic stopped feeling like a superhero comic until this issue. Once Miller and Mazzuchelli bring the super back, it's got with that much more power and drama.

It's fitting that the Avengers swoop in at the end and force Nuke out of Daredevil's hands. Not only does it give Captain America a way to enter the story, but the battle feels bigger and more explosive than what you would normally expect from Daredevil. You half expect Thor or Iron Man to rush up to Daredevil saying, "Whoa, whoa, DUDE! What are you doing? This is our thing, you're down the hall."

--Hulk vs. Thor in Thor #385

I haven't browsed enough comic solicits lately to know whether or not they still do it, but the phrase "cover-to-cover battle" used to be bandied about quite a bit, but you knew it wasn't completely true. No matter how heavy the fighting was, you'd always have at least a page or two of exposition.

In that respect, Thor #385 is no different, but it's just about as close to a true cover-to-cover battle as a Marvel comic ever got. The Hulk/Thor rivalry is as old as Marvel's superhero kingdom, but it's safe to say this is the most brutal battle between them. The Hulk is depicted as particularly vicious, at one point threatening to kill a woman if Thor won't relinquish his hammer. If I recall correctly, Stan Lee meant for this to be the so-called "mindless" Hulk, but either didn't know or didn't care that the mindless Hulk was basically just a dumb animal who didn't even have the low-bar "Hulk Smash" speech capacity. Instead he just wrote the classic "Hulk Smash" Hulk, just as more of a bastard.

It was written as a fill-in, but to anyone who's ever cared either way about the Hulk/Thor rivalry, it's required reading.

--Black Panther vs. Killmonger in Black Panther #20

Christopher Priest's Black Panther was known more for its political intrigue, espionage, witty dialogue and cut-up storytelling than for big super-people fights. But when Priest brought the action, he usually did something interesting with it. In particular I remember this extended fistfight between Black Panther and Killmonger. Like the panels displayed above, the entire fight is told from the first-person point of view, shifting between the combatants, as if the reader were literally either Panther or Killmonger.

There is also a great character to the fight. The two of them battle at the base of a waterfall, and they occasionally take breaks to rest and drink. This kind of noble fight etiquette is refreshing in a superhero dust-up. I don't think it's something that could be used too often without coming off as a gimmick, but it's an interesting approach that I don't think I'd ever considered before reading Black Panther #20.

--Human Torch vs. Baby Elmo in Daredevil #261

I've always remembered this fight simply for the strangeness of its setting. Daredevil is missing and Johnny Storm tries to help find him by showing up at a local dive and intimidating the patrons into giving up the info. Unfortunately, he ain't exactly Rorschach. He arrives at the bar displaying a 13-year-old suburban kid's fashion instincts towards what is and isn't bad-ass. He throws the word "bad" around and actually wears a black shirt that says "BAD!" He actually has a pack of cigarettes rolled up in one of his sleeves. Apparently instead of looking for Daredevil, he was trying to get the whereabouts of Pony Boy.

The dive's regulars are unimpressed by Storm and sic the Hulk-Hogan-sized Baby Elmo on him. Unwilling to use his fire powers at first, Storm gets tossed around a bit by Elmo, but eventually he's able to outsmart him. It's always stuck out in my mind as a good example of a superhero choosing brains over brawn (though after he defeats Elmo, the patrons go nuts on him, he flames on and I'm pretty sure he burns down the bar), and also as an example of a superhero in a title where he seemed very much out of place.

The issue also includes a fight between Kingpin and Typhoid Mary that's far too sexual than any Kingpin fight should ever be.

--Hulk and the Warbound vs. the Avengers and Fantastic Four in World War Hulk #2

It would be as disingenuous as it would be futile for me to try to convince anyone my enjoyment of this battle has nothing to do with who wins it. The Hulk and his buddies beat a bloody path through Marvel's most well-known non-X teams, and while it's light on story, the way John Romita, jr. choreographs the battles in this mini is just great. World War Hulk is one the books I most frequently grab before what I suspect will be an extended stay in the bathroom (cut loose with the jokes as you will), and this part of the book is the one I usually flip through while I process what I need to process. It's just wonderful to look at.

I'd also add it surprised me how well Romita did with World War Hulk. I don't say that to question his talent. It's just that before World War Hulk's release he was heavily promoted as a "fan-favorite" Hulk artist, whereas previous to World War Hulk his work on Incredible Hulk was during periods of the title that were not only light on action, but in the case of the Bruce Jones run, hardly featured the Hulk.

--JLA vs. the Ultramarine Corps and General Eiling in JLA #s 25-26

Grant Morrison's JLA action sequences are always impressive. I knew immediately that a scene from his JLA needed to be on this list, and the battle with the Ultramarine Corps stuck out for a couple of reasons. It has the perfect timing and perspective shifts that made so many of the action scenes in his run great, and it highlights Morrison's ingenuity in respect to coming up with new, cool ways other heroes or villains could challenge or even humiliate a team of the most ungodly powerful superheroes in comics.

--Iron Fist vs. Hydra soldiers and Mechagorgon in Immortal Iron Fist #1

This fight is pure kung-fu bad ass. If you asked me to show you a scan of any one panel that embodied why I loved Immortal Iron Fist while I loved it, it would be from this fight.

It's also an example of what I love about Ed Brubaker's superhero work. I read Brubaker's Sleeper before I read anything else by him. As such, I assumed he was the kind of writer who would hate to use the older, cheesier, rusty artifacts of the superhero world except to make fun of them. I assumed if Brubaker were, say, to be assigned a Spider-Man comic, that he might not necessarily change Spidey so that he would be two-fisting semi-autos John Woo style, but he would very much want to.

And yeah, he definitely has given a stronger sense of bad-ass to certain books - like Captain America - but what has pleasantly surprised me is the contrasting love the guy obviously has for good ol' cheesy superhero fun. How else could the guy not only use a giant robot spider named Mechagorgon, but actually make the thing seem menacing?

--Supersonic vs. Retri-B.U.T.I.O.N. in Astro City Special #1

In Astro City Special #1, the aging Supersonic is called upon to save a residential area outside Astro City from the giant robot Retri-B.U.T.I.O.N. During the battle Supersonic thinks back on the exploits of his younger self. Specifically, he reminisces about the many ingenious ways he used his powers to defeat his enemies; sometimes consciously making complicated strategies for easily solved problems just for fun. Now, old, tired, with no more sense of fun - just like, Busiek seems to be saying, superhero comics - Supersonic has only has one thing left: naked brute violence. Supersonic's battle with Retri-B.U.T.I.O.N. decimates the same neighborhood he was trying to save and Supersonic is a bloody mess by the end of it.

Irrespective of Busiek's message about how superhero action has changed over the years, it's a fun issue because there aren't a lot of brawls in Kurt Busiek's Astro City. There's plenty of superhero action, but an extended, mano-y-mano fistfight is rare in the book. So when it happens the impact is that much stronger. And Busiek goes all out. I don't know if I've ever read a Busiek superhero book with a more brutal fight.

--Night Owl and Rorschach vs. Ozymandias in Watchmen #11

I always enjoy Alan Moore's superhero fights in part because they're so rare. At least, in the case of actual down and dirty, knuckle-bruising brawls. Off the top of my head I can't think of a single scene like that in Top Ten or Tom Strong.

When they do occur, they're refreshingly real and my favorite of them is the swift, decisive fight between Ozymandias, Night Owl and Rorschach towards the end of Watchmen. It feels non-stylized and brutal; but not gratuitously so. The actions the combatants take seem to be chosen because they make sense, not because they look good on the page. I would say the same about the Batman/Joker showdown in The Killing Joke, and Swamp Thing's respective battles with Batman and the Flouronic Man in Swamp Thing.

This is one of the main reasons for my hatred for Zack Snyder's adaptation of Watchmen. It's tough for me to look at how Moore handled superhero violence, watch Snyder's Matrix-on-crack style, and think that me and Snyder were reading the same comic book.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Greatest Enemy

I made a pledge before the end of 2010 that I would blog every weekday for six months. As of this upcoming Monday, I'll have kept my word for a month.

Here's what I've learned so far-

1. My greatest enemy is doubt and it manifests as indecision. I can't tell you how many times I change my mind about what I'm going to blog about the following day. It's not rare at all for me to change topics a dozen times or more before I finally write the thing.

If I'm going to blog every week day, I can't spend hours deciding what I'm going to write about. I need to limit how long I allow myself to consider a topic. Once time is up, whatever I have, no matter how bad I think it will suck, it's what's going to be on the blog. If I can't defeat doubt, I can bypass the fucker.

2. My greatest enemy is time. I find it impossible to do a longer, more involved piece because I'm busy just trying to put together content every day. For the past few weeks, I've wanted to do a "The Whole Story" segment on CrossGen's Ruse, but I can't imagine finding the time to read an entire comic book series. In fact, the notion of making time to read anything that isn't mostly pictures seems laughable. Considering the challenge simply blogging every day has been, I don't know how I'm ever going to manage to write a novel, a short story, or anything else at the same time.

3. My greatest enemy is fear. I psych myself out. It is challenging to blog every day, work a full-time job that has nothing to do with my blogging, try to have a bare minimum of a social life, work on writing unrelated to the blog, etc. And you know what? I'm not going to be able to juggle it all at first. But I'm learning. I'm developing strategies. I'm compensating. And the best way for me to unravel those is to convince myself I don't have enough time before I even try. The reality is every time I have managed to simply sit down, shut up, and do the work, I've been amazed at how quickly I get done.

4. My greatest enemy is Gimli the Cat who - no matter how strongly I impress upon him the importance of my work - insists on jumping on my lap, planting his front paws on my chest, and licking my nose. His distractions are unbearable. I'm fairly certain he's working for al qaeda.

5. My greatest enemy is pride. I am so thoroughly unwilling to write something that will reveal I am not already a flawless, accomplished author, it endangers my ability to write anything at all.

6. My greatest enemy is laziness. As I bitch about time and fear and doubt, I could very well have twice the content I have on my blog if I wasn't always stopping to blow up shit on my XBox or, as evidenced by yesterday's post, spend hours watching a bunch of assholes run around a jungle and lie to each other about the ridiculous crap they find.

7. My greatest enemy is indifference. In the past few weeks I've dropped a lot more money on graphic novels than usual. I've read The Chill, Rat Catcher, Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, Hulk: World War Hulks, Hulk: Fall of the Hulks, Secret Six: Cats in the Cradle, Irredeemable Vols. 3 and 4, and Secret Avengers: Mission to Mars. Despite a significant need for subject matter, I've only reviewed one of them. I disliked some, liked others a little, but didn't care enough about most of them to feel like I have anything significant to say.

8. My greatest enemy is Tapping Tommy from Defenders #30.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why They Killed...?

This post contains a big spoiler. It's a spoiler that's all over the net so if you're someone interested enough in comics to regularly visit comics sites, you probably know the spoiler. That is, unless, you're doing everything you can to avoid the news, in which case this little paragraph here is your signal to go read something else now. Go. Shoo. Go away.


....they killed the Human Torch. Being a rabid Hulk supporter I don't know if I should be angry that they didn't kill Ben Grimm, or happy that he's still around to get knocked around by the Hulk. Regardless, I have to ask the question, why kill the Human Torch?

Sure, Ben Grimm is pretty popular so killing him would be a bad choice. The reaction to killing Reed would be interesting considering the enemies he and his pro-reg friends made among fandom during Civil War. It would offer up interesting personal and romantic options for Sue, just as Sue's death would open up similar options for Reed. Of course, if Sue were killed, her death would leave a sausage party behind and that's always awkward.

Johnny's death, I guess, is the safest death. He isn't as popular as Ben Grimm, he isn't a parent like Reed and Sue, and his death wouldn't anger fans by opening doors for favorite characters to get busy with new people (i.e., I think if Reed were the one who bought it and two issues later Sue and Namor got an apartment together, fans might be a little ticked off).

But we all know Johnny won't be dead forever. Probably 2 or 3 years. That's the going rate, right? Then there will be a mini named Fantastic Four: Rebirth or Fantastic Four: Reborn or The Return of the Fantastic Four or Fantastic Four: Hey, That Dude Is Back.

Which leads to the question of how they will eventually bring him back. I didn't read the issue, but as I understand it, he got killed by giant bugs. That seems pretty tough to get around, but not impossible.

And that makes me wonder if maybe the reason they chose Johnny over the other characters is precisely because they would eventually have to explain how he comes back from the dead.

Almost as if there were another character somehow related to Johnny Storm who would eventually have something to do with the resurrection, a character who has already been resurrected a couple of times and has actually been used as the explanation for other characters' resurrections. A character who actually seems to only spring up whenever someone else needs some Lazarus treatment. Maybe even a character that the Fantastic Four's Human Torch was based upon.

I don't know. I'll have to put my thinking cap on.

Some thoughts upon rediscovering Lost

I watched Lost until the middle of the third season. It was the time of the writer's strike and the quality of the show reflected the talent vacuum. The stories lacked their usual emotional power, one of my favorite characters was killed, and I thought it was likely Lost would be canceled long before any of its mysteries could be answered. So I stopped watching and didn't look back. Later, I heard things that made me regret my decision, but it was too late. The plot of Lost seemed far too convoluted to allow missing one or two episodes much less half a season's worth. By that time, I had distanced myself enough from the story that I didn't care so much anyway about what the hatch numbers were, what the smoke monster was, or whether or not The Others were the bastards everyone thought they were.

Once the show ended and I heard friends and co-workers reacting to it, it gnawed at me a little. I was tempted to watch the series on DVD but, because of the complicated plot, the only way I could imagine getting back into Lost was to watch it again from the beginning, and there was no way I was going to spend money on DVDs just for backstory. Sure, I could get them over Netflix, but that seemed painfully slow. Then my girlfriend bought a Wii and we learned we could stream certain shows and movies over it any time we wanted as long as we had a Netflix membership.

I started slow, watched a couple episodes at a time, but the closer I got to the last episodes I'd seen, the faster I went. This past Saturday morning I planned on getting a lot done; writing, organizing, cleaning. I got up early, did two loads of laundry, stretched out on the couch, turned on the TV and the Wii, and - other than to eat, drink and crap - I did not leave the living room until around 11 pm. I was able to resist a bit longer on Sunday. I cleaned the bathroom, shopped, and organized my desk, but I was still pretty much stuck in front of the TV from around noon till 9 pm.

I've heard differing opinions on how the series ended. I'm only at the end of the third season so I'm far from forming my own opinion, but considering how much time I spent watching the show this weekend, writing something about Lost seems as inevitable as it is practical.

Some thoughts upon rediscovering Lost

1. One of the most appealing aspects of Lost is the interaction between the action in the jungle and the bits and pieces we see of their lives before the crash. The first two truly emotionally powerful episodes for me were "Walkabout", when we learn that the plane crash somehow gave John Locke back the use of his legs, and "The Moth", when John Locke convinces Charlie to kick his heroin habit. "Walkabout" was the episode that convinced me I needed to keep watching the show, and it made Locke my favorite character.

I think one of the things that drove me away from Lost is that the interplay between the past and present stories stopped working for me. I remember two episodes in particular in the beginning of season 3 - "I Do" when Kate marries a police officer played by Nathan Fillion and "Stranger in a Strange Land" when Jack has a love affair with a mysterious woman in Thailand - when for the first time I was completely underwhelmed. It wasn't that I didn't see the usual thematic connections between the past and present scenes - I did. They just weren't emotionally potent. I didn't care.

2. One of the problems I had with the flashbacks either had something to do with the writers running out of ideas, or with Lost simply not being what I expected.

When I started watching Lost, it reminded me of The Stand. There are a number of obvious comparisons, but more specifically the characters of of both seem, for the most part, like ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances. At least as far as the original survivors are concerned, you wouldn't necessarily expect to find these people in any kind of adventure story: a surgeon, an abandoned pregnant woman, a lottery winner, a drug addict, a spoiled rich girl, her overprotective brother, etc. Sure, there are exceptions; most notably Sawyer, Sayid, and Kate. But for the most part the survivors are not the kinds of people you would expect in a story of a mysterious island, magic, monsters, and Hulk knows what else.

But as the series continues, the flashbacks reveal stranger and stranger lives. Using the example of Locke in "Walkabout" again, we learn that Locke worked at a Box supply company and dreamed of adventure. He was so lonely one of the only people he could talk to was an anonymous woman on phone sex line. Eventually, concealing his disability, he took a flight to Australia for a walkabout adventure and was humiliated when they refused to let him on the journey. A normal guy with a tough life, lonely, dreaming of more. That's fairly simple.

As the rest of the flashbacks emerge however, Locke seems less and less ordinary. The story of Locke is the story of a toy store employee whose life changes when his father seeks him out to con him out of a kidney. After he loses his kidney, Locke stalks his father until convinced to give up his obsession by a woman he loves. He loses the woman when she learns Locke helped his father fake his own death and sneak hundreds of thousands of dollars out of a safety deposit box. In the aftermath of his break up he joins some kind of cult/collective stockpiling guns and weed. Locke's life there is ruined when he unwittingly leads an undercover cop into the compound and refuses to kill him. Years later, living off disability, Locke is approached by a man who believes Locke's father is trying to con his mother out of money, Locke warns his father to back off, the son winds up dead. Locke's father throws him out of eighth floor of a building. Locke survives but is paralyzed from the waist down.

The story of John Locke crashing onto the island is not the story of an ordinary man put in extraordinary circumstances. It is the story of a bizarre man with a bizarre goddamn life put in bizarre circumstances. The flashbacks seem to change from the stories of ordinary, believable people dealing with difficult lives, to the stories of people dealing instead with intrigue, blackmail, bloody revenge, and adventure. And that changed the feeling of the story for me.

Using the example of Jack, I find most of his flashbacks very believable. Most of them deal with either his marriage or his issues with his father. But meeting a mysterious, beautiful woman on a beach who randomly screws him for a month until he abruptly goes nuts and forces her to tattoo his arm and is subsequently beaten up by her brother and his friends for getting a tattoo? Yeah, that's just. You know. Stupid.

3. Libby's death probably pissed me off more than any other. For reasons that shouldn't be too tough to figure out, I strongly identify with Hurley, and having her taken from him sucked. Obviously it sucked for her too. I've heard that at some point Michael briefly returns to the series. Perhaps for just a cameo. Regardless I hope it includes Hurley elbowing him in the crotch.

I also hated to see Eko go. He was a cool character with a lot of potential. According to Lostpedia, he asked to leave because both of his parents died in 2005. It also says he was offered a role in Lost's final episode, but he asked for too much money.

4. I really want to feel sorry for Desmond, but I think he's just a whiny little shit. If Lost were the Marvel Universe, Desmond would be Silver Surfer, moping on an asteroid about not being able to get past Galactus's force field, about all the planets he helped destroy, about how humanity sucks, about how his girlfriend's daddy won't give him expensive booze.

5. Ooh, okay, If Lost were the Marvel Universe. I think I have a good topic here.

Jack would be Captain America. That's a no-brainer. A Captain America with a lot of emotional issues, but he'd still be Captain America.

Sawyer would be Wolverine.

I don't want to make the easy bald/wheelchair comparison between Locke and Professor X. However, Locke is a manipulative prick who fucks with other characters' heads because he thinks he knows what's best for everybody else. So, it kind of fits.

Considering he's both devoutly religious and fairly bad-ass - and at the same time walks a round with a heavy stick he's carved words into - I think Eko has to be Thor.

Shit, I guess all those guys bitching about Idris Elba being cast as Heimdall in Thor would really want to beat my ass.

Boone and Shannon - Aurora and Northstar.

With Charlie, we could either go the musician route and say he's Rick Jones or the addict route and say he's Iron Man. I like Charlie, so I'm going to say Rick Jones.

I would like to say that would make Hurley the Hulk, but I don't really see any similarities there. I guess you could kind of argue for Longshot because of Hurley's "curse" but he doesn't act like Longshot. He sure as hell doesn't look like Longshot.

6. Speaking of comic books and Lost, that leads me into something I've been thinking about since I started re-watching it.

When I said I originally watched Lost until the middle of the third season, that may have been misleading. I didn't watch Lost as the episodes aired until the third season. I watched seasons 1 and 2 on DVD. My girlfriend at the time rented the first few discs on Netflix. After that we were hooked and bought the DVD collectionss. It wasn't until the third season that I got to see an episode as it aired on the network.

I still think the beginning of the third season was fairly weak, but I also think there's a big difference between watching a series for the first time on a DVD or streaming it on Netflix versus watching it as the network airs it. When I initially watched those first two seasons, I didn't have to watch commercials or wait very long between episodes. My cliffhangers weren't hanging from quite so high. And I can't help but wonder if at least part of my dissatisfaction with the third season had to do with the new inconveniences of advertising and weekly network schedules.

That made me think of quite a few instances in comic books when I questioned whether it made more sense to step back and judge a work as a whole, or if you had to take into account whether or not the creators met a schedule. As superhero comics have become more geared towards the trade paperback market, I think the question has become more complicated.

In fact, Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof provides a good example. He wrote the mini-series Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk. I just picked up a hardcover collection of the series last week. It wasn't the best story I've ever read, but it was pretty damn solid. Of the three Hulk/Wolverine minis I can remember, it's certainly the best. However, I would probably feel a lot differently if I'd been collecting the series as the issues were released. The first two issues were released in 2006, and #3 didn't hit the stands until 2009.

Likewise, there was a lot of noise when delays hampered the complete release of Civil War. Its creators fired back that there were also significant delays in superhero comicdom's sacred cows Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns when they came out as single issues. I would agree with anyone who might point out that comparing Civil War to Watchmen is like comparing Police Academy 4 to The Godfather, but it's still true that the experience of reading Watchmen issue by issue, at a pace dictated by the publisher, is much different than picking up a Watchmen tpb and going through it at your leisure.

As a reader, as a viewer, I prefer to have the whole story to go through as I choose. It's true for me in TV and comics. While I could never say I don't watch TV, I rarely watch network or cable TV. I watch DVDs and I watch streams. The list of series I have watched only, or mainly, on DVD or on the Wii is growing, and many of them are counted among my favorite shows. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Office, Firefly, Dexter, etc. It kind of bothers me to think I might not have enjoyed them as much if I watched them when they aired, but then I think it's stupid to be bothered by that. I just got the show without the commercials. Win/win.

Likewise, I almost never buy floppies anymore. I only buy Hulk comics in single issue because, as I've written here before, it seems kind of silly for me to have a weekly column about the Hulk and to not know what's going on in the character's books. Not only is it usually a little cheaper to go tpb-only, but it gives me a more satisfying reading experience. If not knowing what's going to happen as quickly as some others know what's going to happen is the price I have to pay, so be it.

Well, that's all I have to say about Lost for now, at least. I'm almost done with the third season, and then there will be three more to go. Maybe I'll do my first "The Whole Story" column for a TV show. We'll see.

(P.S. PLEASE READ BEFORE LEAVING ANY COMMENTS - I love it when people leave comments and don't want to discourage it in any way. In fact, if I was given a choice between getting 1,000 hits per day without anyone leaving comments versus getting no more than 10 hits per day with everyone leaving comments, I would choose the latter. A hit means nothing. A comment means you read what I wrote and gave a crap enough to get involved, and that's pretty damn cool. However, if you're going to say anything about Lost feel free, but please just remember I haven't seen the entire series yet. Yes, I have heard some of things that happen. It was inevitable. But I would like to preserve as much of the surprise as possible. For some reason I've had bad luck with people dropping spoilers lately. Heroes. Lost. Today at work an intern spoiled a huge character death for me in season 4 of Dexter and I haven't even gotten to season 3 yet. I know, I know. You're crying yourself to sleep thinking about my Desmond-esque woes.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Review - Secret Avengers: Mission to Mars

Secret Avengers: Mission to Mars Premiere HC
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Mike Deodato, Will Conrad, David Aja, Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano
Published by Marvel; $24.99 US
Collects Secret Avengers #s 1-5

I'm used to Ed Brubaker's Marvel books proving me wrong. Whenever he's taken the reins of a Marvel title I would usually avoid, he's made me a loyal reader. So when I saw the cover of Secret Avengers: Mission to Mars, in spite of my initial reaction that it looked like Brubaker mashed together a bunch of nobodies with no rhyme or reason, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

At first, I thought my trust was well placed. Initially it seemed that the team concept was something like the small squad of Ultimates who worked towards the same goals as the public team in the first Ultimates volume, but in secret. While the Secret Avengers are a team, they don't hang out together. There really there isn't much interaction between the different heroes at all. They work alone or in small groups; usually pairs. The comic opens with Black Widow and Valkyrie posing as high-price hookers to infiltrate a Roxxon facility in Dubai. Later Moon Knight and Ant-Man break into Roxxon HQ while Steve Rogers, Beast, and War Machine coordinate intel from a secret base. While all this is going on, Nova heads to Mars to investigate Roxxon's dig site there.

Unfortunately, the idea of an espionage-style superhero comic is jettisoned pretty quickly. Before the first chapter is over Nova disappears and Rogers brings the team together to rescue him and learn what Roxxon is doing on the red planet. What follows is not, by any means, a bad comic. Brubaker's characterization is good and there's plenty of fun superhero action. It just left me wondering why I should bother caring about this superhero team more than any other.

The Secret Avengers don't have any specific team identity. At first, they seem like they do, but as soon as the espionage aspect is pushed aside for the more standard, cosmic-style superhero stuff, they become just another superhero team. My initial fear that they're a bunch of nobodies mashed together without rhyme or reason is proved true. The different heroes hardly even talk to each other. There's no group dynamic to speak of. With the exception of Steve Rogers, pretty much everyone on the team could easily be replaced with another Marvel hero (as evidenced by the strong implication towards the end of Mission to Mars that Rogers will already be replacing one of the team's members).

Part of the problem is that Brubaker makes the same mistake I argued he and Matt Fraction made with Immortal Iron Fist. He forgets that most of the character's he's dealing with are not exactly Marvel headliners. With the exception of a couple of flashbacks showing how Rogers recruited Moon Knight and Ant-Man, Brubaker doesn't supply any background on these guys at all. You can get away with that with Grant Morrison's or Mark Waid's JLA line-up. Not so much with the likes of Moon Knight and Valkyrie, especially if they don't speak to each other outside discussing strategy and shouting to each other during fistfights.

Like I said, this isn't a bad book at all. It just isn't particularly good. At the very least, if you just can't do without it, I'd advise you be smarter than I was and wait for the paperback.

Friday, January 21, 2011

HULK IS THE STRONGEST ONE THERE IS!!!!!! : Judge a cover by its Hulk

This week I thought I'd go look through the green guy's issues and pick out my favorite Hulk covers. I call some favorites just because they look nifty, and maybe some others because there's more of a nostalgia factor. Most, obviously, are Incredible Hulk covers, though I also added some covers from Hulk-related mini-series and one-shots.

Also, last week I did a little link-blogging as part of my Hulk Is The Strongest One There Is column. I've done it again this week and will probably keep doing it until I don't want to do it anymore.

Incredible Hulk #1

Tales to Astonish #60

Tales to Astonish #77

Tales to Astonish #93

If you cut off everything below Silver Surfer's knees, it looks like Silver Surfer is helping Hulk cross the street.

A street that's, you know, on fire.

Incredible Hulk Annual #1

Incredible Hulk #102

Incredible Hulk #105

Incredible Hulk #121

I miss the Glob. Do you miss the Glob? I totally miss the Glob.

Incredible Hulk #122

Incredible Hulk #124

Incredible Hulk #128

I remember when I used to go through the Hulk back issues at the comic shop when I was much younger, this one always popped up. I always wanted to buy it but never had enough money. It wasn't ridiculously expensive or anything, but I didn't have a lot of money to spend on comics. When I finally did buy it, I felt like I'd hit the jackpot, like I was on minimum wage and just bought a sports car. It wasn't a bad issue either, if I recall. I think it was the first Hulk/Avengers fight I'd read. The only specific panel I remember is one where the Hulk tosses a bunch of logs in Goliath's face.

Incredible Hulk #140

Incredible Hulk #141

Doc Samson's first appearance. I think Doc Samson has a lot of untapped potential. If you just look at this cover and try to willfully forget any of the character's subsequent history, it seems like he was the answer to the question, "What if the Hulk went right?" In other words, what if the Hulk had been a proper superhero with a costume and a handsome face who didn't fight the army all the time?

Incredible Hulk #167

I think here I just love the idea of Modok with an actual body.

Incredible Hulk #169

Incredible Hulk #184

Incredible Hulk #202

Even though this is not the first appearance of Jarella or the world of K'ai, this image is the definitive image in my mind of Jarella, her world, and everything that went along with it.

Incredible Hulk #209

Incredible Hulk #216

Incredible Hulk #225

Incredible Hulk #238

Incredible Hulk #278

This is the cover of my very first comic book. It's a bit of a deceptive cover. It makes it out as if he's about to fight the other heroes, and that's a big reason why I bought it. It reminded me of how I felt in grade school. I felt like I was a good guy and the other kids were good, too, but they thought I was bad just like everyone thought the Hulk was bad.

Of course, considering what attracted me to that cover, the cover of the following issue is a little funny...

Incredible Hulk #279

Incredible Hulk #293

You know, on the Incredible Hulk message board, my username used to be "The Anti-Grimm."

A cover like this does my heart good.

Incredible Hulk #297

Incredible Hulk #299

Incredible Hulk #301

Incredible Hulk #306

Incredible Hulk #310

Incredible Hulk #319

Incredible Hulk #333

Incredible Hulk #344

I'm not really a big fan of McFarlane's art, but I think this cover is wonderful. He makes the Hulk seem menacing and tender at the same time. I don't feel like ranking these covers, but if I did this would probably be in the top 10.

Incredible Hulk #391

Incredible Hulk #394

Incredible Hulk #395

Incredible Hulk #427

Incredible Hulk #454

I still don't get the Hulk/Wolverine rivalry, but that rivalry has produced some great covers.

Incredible Hulk #34

While I was not happy with Bruce Jones's run on Incredible Hulk, I adored Kaare Andrews's covers.

Incredible Hulk #38

I actually had a letter published in this one.

Incredible Hulk #41

Incredible Hulk #43

Incredible Hulk #49

Incredible Hulk #61

Incredible Hulk #63

Incredible Hulk #92

Hulk #28

Ed McGuinness is one of my least favorite Hulk artists, but I thought this cover was great.

Rampaging Hulk #3

I've never managed to read any of the Rampaging Hulk magazines, but their covers are beautiful.

Rampaging Hulk #5

Rampaging Hulk #9


I loved Bill Sienkiewicz's interpretations of Hulk in this comic, and overall it was my favorite issue of the first Sentry limited series and its one-shots. I know at the time a lot of Hulk fans were angry that Hulk was made to fear the Void, but that didn't make the character seem any less heroic to me. And hey, according to the end of World War Hulk, he got over it, huh?

Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk #6

Wolverine/Hulk #2

Hulk/Wolverine: Six Hours #2

I seriously disliked most of the covers for this mini-series, but this was a good one.

I've considered at some point doing a "least favorite covers" edition of Hulk Is The Strongest One There Is, but I don't know. Seems a little mean spirited.


At Big Glee! Albert Bigley posts a 1979 interview with Lou Ferrigno in Dynamite about his work on the Incredible Hulk, original cover art from Incredible Hulk #139, and Bigley's own strip about his father meeting the Hulk.

At The TV Squad, Chris Harnick suggests possibilities for casting ABC's upcoming Incredible Hulk.

At Too Dangerous For A Girl! Eugene Liptax reviews She-Hulks #3.

Newsarama's Albert Ching interviews writer Rob Williams and artist Brian Ching about Skaar: King of the Savage Land.

MTV Geek! displays images of Hulk Gelaskins for electronic devices.

Marvel announces Ed McGuinness is returning to Hulk and provides some preview pages from Hulk #30.

Cosmic Book News has a preview of Incredible Hulks #621.

Greg Pak announces a 2-part "Mr. and Mrs. Hulk" espionage story in Incredible Hulks #s 626-627

My initial response to the idea of the Hulk wearing a tux in an espionage story? Kind of silly. My second response? No sillier than the Hulk in a pin-striped suit as a Vegas leg-breaker.