October 27, 2011

Yesterday Was Wednesday ... and that meant new comics!

So here's what interested me from the comic shelves yesterday . . .
Oooo, scary . . .
Surprised that Aquaman was on my list? You wouldn't be if you read my initial thoughts on DC Comics going back and starting over all their series. Aquaman is one of my favorite characters and I'm glad to see him get a bit of a new life.
But after reading the second chapter, does this look like this series can float? (Sorry . . .) The answer is yes. I enjoyed it. The threat that was briefly introduced last issue (to make room for introducing the main character) is front and center in this issue.
The one thing I'm waiting for, though, is a character arc. I'm not seeing where the character of Aquaman is going or growing yet. I just don't know what's at stake for the character. The plot of the story should reflect and push the growth of the character. That doesn't mean it won't happen, because this is a weakness of any serialized storytelling, as chapter builds on chapter.
The other problem I had? This was SHORT! Twenty pages for $2.99.
So I'm intrigued and interested and ready for chapter 3.
Oh, and look into the eyes of the creature on that cover . . . do you see it? Yes . . . it's issue #1's cover! Apparently, creatures from the Trench are reading DC's new 52 as well . . .
See that ring on his hand? I got one with my purchase of this book! Of course, the rings don't actually appear INSIDE the book. Guess they needed to put it on the cover for the promotion to make sense . . .
Last week was ALL Legion of Super-heroes. You can read my thoughts about it here. And when I picked them up last week, I thought those three series (yes, there are three series about these character: two ongoing, as part of DC Comics' New 52, and one mini-series crossover with Star Trek -- yes, I don't understand it either and after reading the first issue I still don't understand it, but it's there) were it. Well, turns out there's a fourth series -- a mini-series that will explore and explain the origins of the Legion of Super-heroes.
I'm hoping that it will explain everything I need to know to really be able to understand and follow the Legion of Super-heroes, but so far not so much. This story felt choppy and again, I can't help feeling that it has fallen prey to the "twenty pages of a longer story at a time" weakness.
But it does have some interesting elements -- the science fiction universe that is home to a legion of super-heroes premise is infecting me, I think.
Still, I feel that this one will be better if read as a whole story instead of chopped up into chapters.
I'm a casual fan of the Western and it's tropes. I've worked on a couple westerns in the past, and I read them occasionally, and enjoy a good Western movie. So All Star Western piqued my interest, but enough for me to buy it until I started hearing good things about it.
By then it was too late. The New 52 was sold out.
However, as I mentioned in an earlier post about the New 52, this month when each second issue arrives on shelves, reprints of the first issue are also being sold. Yesterday, All Star Western #2 came out . . . so I thought I'd give the first two issues a look.
First, these books were littered with references to modern day superheroes. It takes place in the 1800's, but the story itself focuses on bounty hunter Jonah Hex arriving in Gotham City to track down a serial killer. The mayor of Gotham City? Mayor Cobblepot (an ancestor of the Penguin). One of the city's wealthy elite? Alan Wayne. Issue 2 references a "Crime Bible", something I heard about in some mini-series or other a couple years ago. Hex's city slicker helper in Gotham? Amedeus Arkham, a psychologist (if not the founder of Arkham Asylum -- I don't know the Batman lore well enough -- than an ancestor of the founder).
It's a tense, gritty, violent book. Prostitutes are the killer's targets. Issue 2 features a bloody shoot out.
The art is highly stylized, though, and I don't find myself taking time to really absorb artwork unless it is really, really good, but here I did find myself looking at the bold line work.
It's a $3.99 book, unlike most of the other New 52 books. And it has a longer page count. Issue 1 was a longer first chapter, all Jonah Hex. Twenty-eight pages of story. Issue 2 had a twenty page Jonah Hex story continuing from issue 1, and an eight page El Diablo story.
El Diablo, also known as Lazarus Lane. (Any relation to Lois Lane? Can't help wondering.) It's an "Indian curse"/"zombie" story about Lane, who, when unconscious, has some sort of dark spirit that takes the physical form of a whip wielding Zorro clone? I don't understand, but since I'll probably be getting #3 to get the next chapter in Jonah Hex's story I may be finding out more.
Also this week:
Haven't read this yet, but it's a bunch (100 pages worth!) of short Jack Kirby stories from the beginning of his career. I love reading these kind of books. And I can't sing the praises of DC Comics Presents 100 Page Spectaculars enough!
And my kids LOVE the Smurf comics. More than the cartoons!
The movie, you ask? What movie? There's no Smurfs movie . . .
~ Ben

October 22, 2011

Round Up

I haven't posted in a while, and thought I'd do a little round up sharing what I've been u to lately.

First, I've been writing a couple different books for Kingstone Comics. I just finished a graphic novel documentary about the history of the Bible -- the actual book, how it was written, translated, and comes to us in its different forms today. I'm also writing the fourth, of twelve, chapter/issue of The Christ for Kingstone, which will be a comprehensive "life of Jesus" story.

Second, I've just finished writing a graphic novel about the life of Paul for Lamppost. The artwork has just started.

Watch this space for more details about when these books will be published.

Or you could watch this space: Ben Avery - storyteller. This is my Facebook "fan page" or whatever it is they are calling it. If you're on Facebook and you're interested in details about what I'm up to, this is the place to go. Just click "like". (I think that's what you're supposed to do . . . I'm still figuring it all out even though I've been on Facebook how long?)

I've also been involved in a a podcast -- which isn't news. Also not news -- we haven't recorded a new episode for a few months. What IS news is that we are going to be "rebooting" the podcast, and new episodes will be showing up early in November. The podcast is called The Fanboy Tollbooth, and it's a clean geek related podcast. I've been posting over there . . . although perhaps I should be posting some of those posts over here instead, since I've been letting this blog go a little.

But here are some posts that may be of interest:
Digital Comics: What They're Doing Right (sort of)
The Avengers Trailer - Meh? Or Yay!
DC's New 52? Giving comics and characters a facelift (about the DC Comics reboot)
New Comics: Legion of Super-heroes (reviewing four different Legion of Super-heroes comics)
Mama, just killed a man . . . with this SONG! (be careful with this one, once you see it . . . you can't UNsee it)

Visit FanboyTollbooth.com to read other articles and listening to our previous podcasts. You can also "like" the podcast on our Facebook page.

~ Ben

October 21, 2011

New Comics: Legion of Super-heroes

When I was a kid, I had a couple Superboy and the Legion of Super-heroes comic books. I liked them. They had Superboy and a bunch of cool looking characters. It was in space and in the future and, to someone excited about Star Wars and Superman it was a cool convergence of both.
Of course, I knew nothing about the cast of characters and the continuing story and I was very, very confused about what was going on. Both comics started in the middle of something . . . had some cool action . . . and ended on a cliffhanger.
I still like the concept, though, but like X-Men comics I never got into any of the many series because of all the backstory and the huge cast of characters. Reading comics over time I got to know some of the main characters and concepts.
In the comic shop yesterday, there were four different Legion of Super-heroes comics . . . and I thought this might be a chance to give it a try. Two of them, after all, were from the new 52 . . .
I decided to read this one first, since it was a reprint of an older Legion story.
I was very confused when I started reading it, because NOTHING went along with what I already knew about the characters, until I realized that it was actually an Elseworlds book: a stand alone story that has nothing to do with any continuity and is set in its own universe.
In the "real" Legion stories, super powered teens from the future are inspired to become superheroes by Superman's exploits in the present. In THIS story, Superman never existed because the rocket ship that carried him to Earth as a baby somehow went off course and wasn't found until the far future. So Kal-El lives in the future, has taken to calling himself Superboy (inspired by the OTHER superheroes from the present, who died early because Superman wasn't around) and Superboy now wants to build a "legion". Of "super-heroes".
I'm sure if I was more familiar with the Legion characters, I'd have found it even more clever than it was because of all the appearances of all the many characters. But as it is, I still found it quite interesting. It's a fun story, with super heroics and sci-fi ideas.
Recommended. The DC Comics Presents . . . series is a great deal. Each of these books is a 100 page "graphic novel" reprinting various classic and/or obscure story arcs from the past.
So this new series is one of the "new 52", like I mentioned in this previous post, and is supposed to be a great jumping on point.
It wasn't.
That's not to say it wasn't good. It was. And they worked to make it accessible, by carefully introducing characters as soon as you see them the first time, in both issues. But, just like my old Legion comics, coming into the first issue, the reader is coming into the middle of a story.
I did appreciate the science fiction elements, and it is well written.
But unlike the "Superboy's Legion" book I read just before this, where the initial confusion was intentional, here it was unavoidable because it is still tied to directly to the old Legion of Super-heroes stories.
Recommended if you are familiar with the characters and storyline, but not if you are coming in with no knowledge like me.
LEGION LOST #1 and #2
Coming into this series, I found the same problem as the previous series . . . but this time, it worked.
The first issue opens right in the middle of a story. A handful of the huge cast of superheroes from the future of the Legion has found itself trapped in the present. It's picking up from the same storyline Legion of Super-heroes picked up from, and the careful character introductions aren't there and somehow . . . I was drawn in.
Maybe I was okay feeling lost because "lost" was in the title?
Supposedly, time travel is no longer possible in the "new 52" DC universe, and these characters are stuck. "Men out of time", so to speak. I liked it.
It's geek fodder. "Who would win in a fight, Freddy or Jason?" "What if aliens fought predators?" "Wouldn't it be brilliant ifIron Man, Captain America, and  Thor met the Hulk, a red-haired woman, and a guy I'm pretty sure I recognize from something who shoots arrows?"
I can't imagine ANYONE has ever sat down thinking . . . "what if the futuristic Captain Kirk and crew teamed up with superhero teens from the further future?"
But here it is. It's a classic Trek trope -- the old "alternate universe timeline" story, in which Kirk and crew find themselves in a mirror universe. And so do a small group of the Legion heroes. The same mirror universe. The two teams haven't met yet, in this issue. I guess that's in the next issue.
But is it good? Surprisingly, it is.
Recommended? If you like this sort of thing.
~ Ben
PS -- The last one, of course, reminds me of this:
Yes, Star Trek/X-Men. This one, also as un-needed as the Trek/Legion, at least had a couple moments in which iconic characters meet and do iconic things. Like this:
Spock giving Wolverine a nerve pinch? I like it.
But I like this more:

October 20, 2011

Mama, just killed a man . . . with this SONG!

And life had just begun . . .

Here he is! The one and only Shatner, doing the Bohemian Rhapsody:

Wow. It's impressing me and depressing me at the same time.

There's a part of me that loves seeing Shatner so much, especially with his run as Denny Crane on Boston Legal.

There's another part of me that wishes it wasn't so much self-parody.

And let's face facts, as awesome as Shatner can be . . . he just doesn't hold a candle to THIS Bohemian Rhapsody:

Still and all, his new album, Seeking Major Tom, an album of space themed classic rock songs, just might be finding its way into my iTunes library . . .

~ Ben

October 18, 2011

DC's New 52? Giving comics & characters a facelift . . .

Well, DC is in month two of their "new 52" initiative, in which they have completely, only not really, rebooted their entire universe to start over at the beginning.
Unless the character was popular. In which case, they aren't starting over from the beginning and instead they are continuing with their popular elements.
So Superman? Starting over from the beginning. Green Lantern? They just finished an epic storyline with him, so that still happened. Same with Batman.
I find it interesting how they are trying to make things less confusing by making things more confusing . . . but, snark aside, this really seems to be a good thing.
First, comic shops are having a hard time keeping titles on the shelves. Orders for the second month of the New 52 saw their second issues in the top one hundred sales rankings, side by side with REPRINTS of their first issues.
Second, it seems that people are mainly buying them to READ, not to COLLECT. I'm not sure if this is industry wide, but the owners of BuyMeToys.com, my local shop, said that unlike other "events", people are buying one copy of the books. For reading, it seems.
Third, some of the characters were in need of a little more than a facelift. There comes a time when trying to cover up aging results in something like you'd find in Terry Gilliam's Brazil:
No one really wants their heroes to look like this, even metaphorically, do they?
Besides, Superman has a movie coming out and he needs to be more hip and happenin'. While I don't agree with some of what they're doing to update the characters, the truth is every single one of these books is more accessible. Mostly.
Fourth, Aquaman! Yes, I know, with that one word I have destroyed ALL credibility. But it's good to see Aquaman in his own book. And I'm buying it. For a few issues, anyway.
The first issue of Aquaman illustrates exactly what DC is trying to do. In trying to pull in new audiences, but satisfy old audiences, they start a new storyline with new enemies.
At the same time, Geoff Johns tells a story that introduces the character nicely, and sets up his place in the DC universe. It's a little bit tongue in cheek, wink and nod, but all the things that people make fun of the character for are addressed.
It's a low key issue, meant to bring everyone up to speed enough so that when the story really gets going, readers care about the character. Whether this succeeds or not is up to the reader, of course, but I felt like it succeeded. I want to see where this goes, so I'll be buying the next two issues to see if I like where it's going. It was a good start.
I only bought two other comics from the new 52. People who know me should not be surprised that I bought Aquaman. And I mentioned in my digital comics post that I had bought the Justice League #1 that came with the print comic and the download code for the digital copy.
What I didn't mention was that I wasn't all that impressed with the actual comic. It was serviceable, but it was meant to be a "how we met" story, and how do Batman and Superman meet? Well, they fight, of course!
I won't be buying any more Justice League. As impressed as I was with Geoff Johns' writing in Aquaman and other books I've read of his, this didn't do anything for me. I get that the book is a "how they met" thing, but I'd rather the book had opened with the team together and looked back at the other stuff over time. This is a team book, and at the end of the first chapter there's still no team, just the cliched "heroes meet, there's a misunderstanding, so they fight". I mean, honestly, this plot is the reason I don't like romantic comedies.
If Aquaman comes as no surprise to people who know me, Swamp Thing should do the same.
I love swamp monsters.
Especially in well made movies and comics.
Now, first off, let me say: I have never, ever seen a good swamp monster movie. "Creature from the Black Lagoon is as close as I've gotten, and that doesn't count.
But there have been some very good swamp monster comics. What makes a good swamp monster comic? Interesting characters doing interesting things that involve a swamp creature of some sort. (This is the same criteria I use for swamp monster movies . . .)
So is this a good one? I don't know. Why? Because I had no idea what was going on. For a comic that was supposed to be an accessible story, I found myself really, really confused. I felt like I was coming into the middle of the story. I don't like giving bad reviews, so I'm just going to leave it at this: issue one and two left me cold, and I'm going to give it one more issue. I don't expect everything to be explained in a story, but I would like to have some idea of what's going on. This book seemed to tie into plot lines from before the "new 52" relaunch, which I am not familiar with.
I almost picked up Animal Man, but flipping through it I was reminded of '90's Vertigo comics. That's not a knock. I really, really liked '90's Vertigo comics. But it's not for me right now.
There is a western title coming out, from the team behind Jonah Hex. When the second issue comes out at the end of the month, so will a reprint of the first issue. I plan to buy both, give those a try.
The bottom line: the new 52 has a wide variety of different titles and styles. If you want to get in on the ground floor, this is the time to do it. Most of the titles have first and second issues in comic shops now, or first and second issues available through the Comixology app. I was skeptical, but DC seems to have hit the right notes.
~ Ben

October 17, 2011

Digital Comics: What They're Doing Right (sort of)

I got an e-mail this morning from Comixology and Marvel telling me that they were running a "half off sale" until 11:00 AM.
That's half off $1.99. So already, Comixology is offering these comic book issues at a low price compared to current new issues ($2.99 to $4.99). This price covers almost all old issues -- issues that are collector's items in print and may run $10, $20, $50, or more in comic shops and on eBay; issues that were originally $.35 on the newsstand; and issues that are only a few years or months old and originally were $1.99 to $3.99 or whatever.
Comixology is a nice "equalizer" in that way. In digital comics, there is no collectibility. You can't invest, buying a $3 book featuring Obama with Spider-Man and hope that you can resell it sometime for a tidy profit. But on the flip side, you aren't spending $100 because you want to finally read that issue about Spider-Man meeting Obama and you realize that the only way that's going to happen is to buy it from one of those people who want to make that tidy profit. Again, though, because prices are so fixed, you're not going to be able to find that issue on eBay for $.25 starting bid because they finally understand that, really, they aren't putting their kid through college because they bought a comic book with Obama and Spider-Man inside and now they just want to get rid of them.
So prices are "fixed". Sort of. You can buy any of DC Comics' new books the same day they arrive in comic shops, but you will pay full cover price for them for a period of time, before the price drops to that magical $1.99.
And then there are the sales. DC Comics was running some fairly regular weekend sales, with a selection of half off comics. When the Green Lantern movie came out, you can bet that they had a bunch of Green Lantern comics for just $.99. When their big Flashpoint crossover was hitting stores, they ran a sale on Flash comics.
They also frequently have sales for the smaller publishers titles.
And now this e-mail from Marvel. This is the first sale from Marvel that I remember seeing, and like the DC sale, it has a time limit. For this one, all twenty-seven issues of Immortal Iron Fist are $.99 each. If you were to buy these at cover price, that would be about $100 you'd drop. If you were to buy the collections on Amazon, you'd be spending $42 (they have some of those "bargain priced" right now).
And I find myself in a quandary. As of this writing, I have one hour if I want to get in on the sale. This is a series I wanted to read, but my local comic shop didn't have the entire series by the time I realized I might like it (that's the way of things for me -- I'm late to the party, always). But if I'm going to spend the $27, why not spend the $42? I have birthday money, right? And I'll have the entire story on my shelf, in nice and tidy graphic novels. Then again, if I get it for my iPad, I don't have to worry about using shelf space. And really, am I going to read it again?
The truth is, while I have the comic apps, I haven't bought any comics on them. In fact, the only comic on any of those Comixology apps that I have on my iPad right now that I paid for, I bought at a comic shop! It's Justice League #1, the digital edition. Cover price $4.99, it came with the comic book and a code to put in to allow you to download the issue as well.
The clock is ticking. Just under an hour now. There's something else they are getting right: that sense of urgency.
In the end, I think I know what I'll be doing. I'll probably put off the choice . . . not do either . . . and then, if I think of it I'll get them from the library.
If I think of it.
What about you? Are you on the digital comics bandwagon? Or is it paper only for you? Or are you like me, hanging somewhere in-between?
~ Ben

October 12, 2011

The Avengers Trailer - Meh? Or Yay!

First, let me say, The Avengers is a movie that has a LOT going for it, and I have some very, very high expectations. Why? 1. Joss Whedon. He's a co-writer, and I love almost anything he writes. Almost. He's also directing, but it's the writing I'm looking forward to. Zak Penn is also a co-writer, and he hand his hand in a lot of movies -- none of them, except X-Men 2 and Incredible Hulk, movies I've really liked, story-wise. But Joss Whedon, man. When he's good, he's really, really good. 2. Captain America. Thor. Iron Man. The Hulk. Each of these were movies I enjoyed, and they are meant to build up to the massive The Avengers movie. The actors for the first three really owned the characters, and I enjoyed watching all three of them in their character. The Hulk has been played by two different actors in his two previous movies, and a third actor in this one. 3. Captain America. Thor. Iron Man. The Hulk. These are great characters, and The Avengers features all of those characters. That's a LOT of strong personalities and dynamic performers, each of them able to sustain their own two hour movies. Bringing them together, in one story, could be  recipe for disaster. But I echo Jeremy's thoughts: "However, from the trailer, I can assume at least, that Joss Whedon was able to find the perfect balance between them all." It'll be a juggling act, to be sure. So, yeah, I have high expectations. HAD high expectations. Until I saw this trailer. First, I have to say, I'm not impressed with some of the costumes. In the Captain America: The First Avenger movie, they made what really should be a ridiculous costume work. It doesn't work for me now.
Maybe it's the lighting. Then again, he's looking really good here: The helmet looks really cool, but that hoody type mask just feels like something I could make after shopping at Wal-Mart. But enough nitpicking. When I saw that the trailer was hitting computers earlier this week, I got excited. I'm looking forward to this movie and here was, finally, a peek inside. Then I watched it. I was not impressed. At all. This is a good thing. A very good thing. Why? Well, it lowered my expectations. It tempered my excitement. I'm still going to be in the theater opening day, and if it's a good, fun movie I won't be disappointed because it's not a great, ground breaking film. ~ Ben Hat tip to www.comicbookmovie.com for the screencaps.