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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Weekly reader

Nostalgia was behind the majority of my comics buys this week. High standards and good taste will drive my not bothering to buy any of them again, however.

I've already talked, one entry below, about how simultaneously disappointed and appalled I was by the latest issue of MARVEL TEAM UP, a book I was buying mainly because of the childhood emotional associations its title conjures up in me. Out of the four other comics I bought this week, THE ATOM and MYSTERY IN SPACE were purchased on the basis of a similar impulse.

The new Atom series has been disappointing from the start. Over on Mike Norton's blog, someone (probably the ever astute Orto himself, but it may have been Dwight Williams, I can't remember right now) made the observation that it seemed obvious that Gail Simone wasn't doing much on this book except providing dialogue over John Byrne's fully self plotted pencils. Byrne doing writing of any sort is never pretty, which is an observation I've made at length in other venues. I've hung in there to date out of loyalty to Ray Palmer (a strange motivation, since this version of the Atom isn't Ray, and has little to do with him), a desire to support the first solo title the Atom (any version) has had in over 20 years, and a hope that eventually the Gail Simone who wrote VILLAINS UNITED would reappear actually writing this book. But issue three is just as goddam boring as the first two, and shows just as many of Byrne's tedious plotting hallmarks, and so, I'm outta there. I'm sure if Simone ever does start actually writing the series, it will quickly generate buzz and I can jump back on then.

On a completely different note, I have no idea who created this page about insanely fucked up J.M. deMatteis creations Turner D. Century and Morgan McNeil Hardy, but he or she deserves some traffic. This shit is hysterically funny. And, alas, whoever wrote the page did not make up any of the references to Turner D. Century or Morgan McNeil Hardy. J.M. deMatteis really did create those turkeys back in the 80s, and Marvel really did let them get into print. My God. My God.

Going back to bad comics I bought this week because I was nostalgically fond of their titles, we come to MYSTERY IN SPACE #1, featuring Captain Comet.

I know very little about Captain Comet, although, like a great many people who know very little about Captain Comet, I think he's kind of cool and am somewhat interested in the character. I understand he's a mutant with super strength, telepathy and telekinetic powers who mostly hangs out in outer space, and he had some recent involvement in the cosmic sub-plotline of INFINITE CRISIS -- a branching of that particular story which went nowhere and accomplished nothing, but what the hell.

MYSTERY IN SPACE, of course, is the name of the old 50s rotating anthology title that eventually became home to Adam Strange, for a while. So I thought it was kind of cool when DC revived the title, and gave it to Captain Comet, another Earthman adventuring in outer space who just happened to be named Adam. In fact, I thought it was so cool that I bought the first issue of the series, despite it being written by Jim Starlin, who is a pompous blowhard of a writer/artist who has never had an idea Jack Kirby didn't have first and draw better thirty years before Starlin tore the panel out of its original edition and taped it to a lightbox.

Starlin only writes one thing at all well, and that one thing is death/rebirth stories. Fortunately for us, Starlin knows this, and therefore, it's all he ever bothers to write; I've lost track of how many times Thanos has died and been reborn under Starlin, for example, and I suspect he's getting ready to do it again, in some Marvel cosmic crossover series I have no more interest in than I do in CIVIL WAR, the other big Marvel crossover series that I'm currently assiduously avoiding.

So, Captain Comet gets a death/rebirth story, and it's so painfully badly written that four pages in, the reader loses track of exactly which layer of flashback is being narrated at any given time, and at what particular moment in the fucked up non linear internal timeline the story might be at any randomly chosen juncture.

Some of the panels on a given page are being narrated in first person by Captain Comet, who is dead, or who recently was dead, or something; other panels on the page are filled with expository word balloons being narrated by some talking bulldog who belongs to Captain Comet, assuming, of course, that Captain Comet is actually alive, and not dead. The bulldog, and some yellow skinned ninja chick in an eyepatch whose name we never learn because Starlin is exactly that bad a writer, think Captain Comet is dead, but apparently, Captain Comet is not, because although his body was vaporized, he had some kind of spiritual encounter with another really idiotic and contrived and, until this story, long forgotten Jim Starlin character called The Weird, and now both he and The Weird are alive again, huzzah, huzzah.

Anyway, Captain Comet comes back to life and then Starlin launches into a long flashback about The Weird, a character that, as I previously noted, I'd long since conceived an utterly necessary traumatic amnesia concerning, and that I'm going to probably need serious therapy now that Starlin has made all those painful memories come crashing back again.

Other than every other bad space opera Starlin has written from the first Warlock series to that crappy Dreadstar thing, what this issue mostly reminds me of is Howard Chaykin's truly horrifying TWILIGHT miniseries from sometime in the late 80s. A post CRISIS re-imagining of DC's entire line of space based adventuring characters, TWILIGHT focused on Chaykin's twin obsessions -- lots and lots of fictional characters having weird sex together, and yet another smart ass talking cat. MYSTERY IN SPACE mentions quite a few of the same DC space based characters as were featured in TWILIGHT, although there isn't as much body fluid exchange, and we get a smart ass talking dog instead of a smart ass talking cat, so I guess we're ahead in the deal.

I did enjoy one panel in the book, where we found out that Captain Comet had returned to Earth in the 1980s and hated everything about the decade -- politics, music, and "something called the Secret Society of Super Villains, whatever that was".

Other than that, though, the comic was a busted axle 22 pages for me.

If you don't want to take my word for how bad this comic sucks, though, please understand that Ragnell really likes it. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is the final nail in the coffin for it. But as always, your mileage may vary.

Oh, I shall digress once more at this point and mention that it's Ragnell's blogoversary, and to celebrate, she redid her extensive sidebar, adding a link to this blog right here. This is apparently a much coveted honor among Modern Age fangeek bloggers, and I sincerely appreciate it, and am especially fond of the affectionate nickname she bestowed upon me there -- "Miserable Jackass". I shall do my best to live up this title to in the future, as I obviously have in the past. Thanks, Ragnell. Doubtless, in the annals of miserable jackasses everywhere, you too shall be duly enshrined.

Okay, back to the crap -- I bought two other comics this week, one of which was terminally mediocre, and the other of which was the latest issue of 52, which I refuse to judge by the same standards I use for normal comics, because, well, it's a weekly comic whose characters include every single fictional person in the entire DC Universe, and I'm just not going to subject it to the same level of criticism as I apply to, say, the new 1602 series by Peter David.

Which I found to be kind of tedious and stupid and boring, so I won't buy any more of it. But I have to admit, it may not be entirely David's fault. The art is just friggin' horrible, and let's face it, Neil Gaiman, like Alan Moore, is a virtually impossible act to follow for any other writer. One need only imagine the inadequacies and comparative shortcomings that would necessarily have to be embodied within a Peter David WATCHMEN sequel to understand just how brutally disappointing nearly anyone's attempt to follow on the path Gaiman blazed in his original historical heroic fantasy would necessarily be.

So, deeply though I want to buy a 1602 miniseries centering around the Fantastick Four, I'm going to pass on the rest of this one. But it could always be worse; Brian Michael Bendis or Warren Ellis could have gotten the writing assignment instead. Although in that case, I wouldn't have wasted any money on it.

Hey, speaking of that, let's throw in another review for free of something I took out of the library and read last week -- Warren Ellis' OCEAN.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read much of my work that I really found this story arc to be utterly batshit awful. What surprises ME is that otherwise intelligent people like John Rogers simply can't stop raving about the brilliance of Ellis, and I have yet to see so much as a subatomic particle of said brilliance in anything written by Ellis that I've managed to slog my way through.

This is no exception. It's a hundred years in the future, and a black guy who looks just like Samuel L. Jackson and who works as a weapons inspector for the United Nations is on his way out to some moon of Jupiter (or something) that, as it turns out, is one gigantic ocean underneath its perpetual icy shell. See, a United Nations orbital observatory out there has made a big discovery -- thousands of advanced alien sarcophogi a billion years old floating in the depths of this unearthly ocean, each of which contain an alien life form in suspended animation. Turns out these aliens are ancestors of modern day humanity; their DNA is around 98% congruous with ours, and apparently they seeded Earth with the building blocks of human life way back before it even had much of an atmosphere. Or some fucking thing; I don't know. Too much idiocy in one place makes my brain hurt.

Churning onward -- It turns out the alien humanity ancestors (or "our parents", as the characters in the novel keep insisting on referring to them) are incredibly evil; all they like to do is wage war amongst themselves and they have incredibly advanced technology that is capable of blowing up entire planets. Apparently they blew up the planet that is now the Asteroid Belt, and they also vaporized Mars' one time Earthlike atmosphere, causing the oxygen in it to be seared into Mars' outer crust, staining it red.

But, see, there's an evil corporation (Ellis cleverly names this 'the DOORS Corporation', and they specialize in a universally used software that makes computer screens turn blue and die three times a day, get it, GET IT, nudge nudge wink wink SAY no more) and this evil corporation has its own satellite way out there, too, and they know about the sleeping aliens and they want them for themselves. Exactly what they figure on doing with thousands of all powerful entirely evil aliens who like to do things like vaporize inhabited planets I could not tell you, and neither could anyone else, because there is no sensible rationale why any for-profit corporation would want to have anything to do with wiggy-ass unstoppable nut jobs like that. But the chief executive on the spot is conveniently bugshit, so we don't need any steenking rational motivations for him; he's going to wake the aliens up and no sonofbeech-sheet United Nations lawn jockey is gonna get in his way.

So, you know, there's one fight in this evil guy's office and another fight on the United Nations satellite and the Samuel L. Jackson guy cleverly manipulates the artificial gravity to win which makes all the geeks in the audience cum in their shorts and then all the good guys get into a diving ship and head for this convenient wormhole portal stargate thing that the aliens set up a billion years ago that empties out very close to Earth, and they have to get there really quick, because it turns out that the Samuel Jackson guy has somehow hacked into the ancient alien computers and overriden one of their super powerful planet killing phaser banks and pointed it at the center of the ocean-moon, and when it goes off it will blow up the entire planet and kill all the aliens and everyone else, too, if they don't get through that wormhole fast enough.

But, they do, so that's all right.

Besides the Samuel Jackson guy, who really hates guns but who is really really good with them when he has to use them (oh, the angst; oh, the internal conflict) there is a really hot looking Indian or Asian or some frickin thing chick who is the commander of the United Nations orbital observatory, who never does very much besides thrust her excellent bosoms against the taut fabric of her tight coverall, and there's this other really hot redheaded chick who is a pilot who likes to fly spaceships really fast and crash them into things and who is constantly talking about how horny she is. Now, if you or I or Bill Mantlo or even Ernest Fucking Hemingway His Damn Self were to create exactly this character, a million liberated readers of either or both genders would rise up righteously and denounce us for writing a female character who is nothing more than a man with tits, but since Warren Ellis did it, and Warren Ellis is this brilliant 21st Century writing deity, I guess this is a fabulously insightful and amazingly innovative portrayal of human femininity. Or something.

Anyway, beyond the fact that pretty much everything in this comic book story is either boring or stupid or both from start to finish, what mostly occurred to me when I read it is that for a singularly original visionary, Ellis certainly seems to steal a great many of his ideas from other sources, and worse, he steals really insanely moronic ones, to boot. I mean, if I didn't believe that Jeff Goldblum could upload a functional computer virus from a 3.5 floppy disk to an alien computer in an alien fighter ship in INDEPENDENCE DAY -- and I really, really fucking didn't -- I'm certainly not going to believe that Samuel L. Jackson can somehow hack into the programming instructions of a billion year old alien computer belonging to a billion year old alien race whose technology is so advanced that they can stay alive in suspended animation for a billion years, much less, turn entire Earthlike planets into asteroid belts, in OCEAN. And I really, really fucking don't.

But maybe it's just me. I understand a great many people out there think Warren Ellis is the greatest thing since, I don't know, boobs, or something, and a lot of them are very intelligent. I, however, just don't frickin' get it.

I did enjoy 52 this week, though, a great deal more than I liked it last week, when goddam Lobo showed up, and Adam Strange didn't even outmaneuver him into a black hole or anything.


At 5:39 PM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

My latest (covering three weeks) box of comics will be arriving at the end of this week, so among other things I'll be catching up on three weeks of 52 (the past two weeks and the one upcoming) and the latest issue of The All-New Atom then or sometime soon after. (Btw, it was me noting how Byrne appears to have ghost-written, including most of the dialogue, at least that first issue of Atom; you were the only one to date who agreed with me on that, though.) I'd ordered the first two issues of Atom before I'd read the first, and was going to drop it then I saw that Byrne was only on board for the first three issues, so I thought I'd hold on and keep it on my list.

Mystery In Space was something I saw was both Starlin and an 8-issue miniseries... and so decided to wait for some reviews and the trade, if at all, to pick it up.

I passed on the 1602 follow-up mini with much the same in mind.

I've never read Ocean, so I can't comment on that.

So, all's that left is to congratulate you, you Miserable Jackass! ;)


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