Sunday, August 29, 2010

VINTAGE - Beauty & the Behemoth, Hulk

On impulse, I decided to comb through the racks of discount graphic novels at Midtown Comics one afternoon. I was in the mood for something older, something that reminded me why I fell in love with comics in the first place. They didn't have much, but they did have an older trade paperback of Incredible Hulk issues that caught my eye. As a big fan of Peter David's work on X-Factor and of the author in general, it's hard to believe I haven't read a lot of his 11+ years that he spent writing The Incredible Hulk. I decided, what the hey? It was worth a shot. The Hulk is never my first choice for comics, red or otherwise, but I figured David's work would be strong. He also wrote an introduction and a conclusion for the book which was a nice touch.

This volume jumps around a lot. So much so that it's hard for me to sum it up in a few paragraphs. This was published in the '90s before trade paperbacks really told a coherent story, so it's more of a 'best of' collection of Betty Ross's relationship with Bruce Banner/the Hulk. It tells the origin of The Hulk, which is nice for first-time readers. This is mainly because the first issue is where Bruce and Betty meet. It then goes into a story where Betty is already a gamma-inspired villainous called the Harpy with really no explanation as to how she got that way. If such things don't bother you (I'll admit, it didn't bother me as much as you might think) then just go with it. Don't know why the Harpy story really made it into the collection, other than it's referenced in the very last issue as a throwaway line in the last issue and Bruce cures her while she is the Harpy, I guess proving his love or whatever.

The idea of following an epic love of two characters sounds like a good idea on paper, but so many different things have happened to The Hulk over the years that it means whatever stage of transformations he's in is going to be hard to follow. For instance, The Hulk is the grey Hulk by the time you get to the McFarlene-drawn story (don't get excited about that, it's definitely not his best work) you kind of wish you knew more about what happened in the in-between periods. The last story I reviewed, Spider-Man: The Birth of Venom did have little prose pieces in between the reprinted issues to tell you something like, "Peter Parker broke up with Felicia Hardy; he then marries Mary Jane." Stuff that would obviously good to read, but doesn't really directly relate to oh, say the aforementioned birth of Venom. I think it's kind of integral to know what's going on with The Hulk to better understand the story here, as Peter David's storyline for the character just made him too dynamic to read snippets of.

This collection is not in-print anymore, which I'm not actually going to lose sleep over. The earlier stories, including the Hulk's origin and the Harpy tale, are not written by Peter David. The art is also all over the place, and it prevents the volume from that cohesive feeling I think you're supposed to get from reading a collected work. I think it was good to read these stories and have them stored away in my vast knowledge of comic book history, but reading some of the now-published Essential collections might give a reader a better conception of The Hulk's story overall. The cover is also epically horrible. While Bruce's relationship with Betty is obviously integral to his story as a whole, it's really not enough to base a collection on. That's why this trade paperback just doesn't hold up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

VINTAGE - Spider-Man: Birth of Venom

Ah... Spider-Man, Spider-Man. He does whatever a spider can. But there was a time, many many years ago, that he got a really cool black costume. This costume let him do a little bit more than just your average friendly neighborhood wallcrawler. For example, it could mimic any type of clothing with nothing more than a thought. And it could also create its own webbing. The only real downside was that Peter Parker tended to be a little bit exhausted while he was wearing it, but he didn't even put it together that it might be his fancy new threads that were causing that. I mean, why would a goopy black costume from outer space make you tired?

Well, that costume was alive. It was a symbiote, an organism that thrives by bonding to another. And in the weird alien costume's defense, the only really negative thing it was doing to ol' Spidey was highjacking his body in the middle of the night and fighting more crime. A lot of personal issues prevent Spider-Man from getting his costume checked out early on, mostly his fractured relationship with Aunt May. Peter thought it would be a good idea to drop out of graduate school, so May thought it would be a good idea to stop talking to him. Oh, Aunt May. You go, girl! Anyway, Spidey is all butthurt about it. He's also getting frisky with the Black Cat, but he has the sneaking suspicion that she is lying to him about something. She is; she has weirdo bad luck powers she got from the Kingpin, but doesn't want to tell him about it. Also, he spends more of the story actually thinking about her than spending physical time with her. That, to me, made me not care as much about their relationship. There's also a really bizarre moment when they're in his apartment and she "can't even look" at his face without his mask on. That's kinky. I mean... does he leave the mask on?

Spider-Man fights some pretty lame villains in the lead up, including a feral dude named Puma and Vulture rip-off villains calling themselves 'the Vulturions.' I don't know if the Vulturions ever came back, but seeing as how Spidey could barely maneuver himself around while he was having an internal struggle with his costume, it's pretty sad that he manages to beat four of these dudes when his heart is not even in it. It's easy to see why Puma and the Vulturions aren't adapted into most 'alien costume' updates in media adaptations. They suck. Well, the Puma half-sucked. I liked the panels with his face changing. That was groovy. He had a lot of logic problems. Like, "as long as I fulfill my tribal obligations I can TOTALLY be an assassin!" Nope, buddy. I don't think that really works. Anyway, Peter manages to get him and his freaky ass costume over a bell tower, where sonic vibrations nearly kill them both. The costume gets off him, then also saves him from a bell-inspired brain bleed. It's weird that the costume saves him and later tries to kill him, but I guess bonding with a new host gives it perspective on how it was ultimately betrayed. Or, I'm trying to solve Marvel Comic plot points without getting paid for it. Either way.

I totally left out how Spider-Man took a trip to Fantastic Four headquarters and discovered the costume was alive after Reed Richards tested it. He uses this cool looking 'sonic blaster' to get it off Spider-Man. Then, Johnny Storm gives him an original Fantastic Four costume. But since they have no masks, he pokes eye holes out of a brown paper grocery bag and gives him that to use. Heh. Then he put a 'Kick Me' sign on his back. Double 'heh.' I don't think the Human Torch gets as much credit nowadays for being an ass, but he totally should. I guess Chris Evans playing him in the movies (and being the best part of those movies, let's face it) is vindication enough. But it's a nice little moment. For some reason, in the alter McFarlene stories, Spider-Man keeps going to talk to The Thing. Why? Wouldn't you rather have Mr. Fantastic, the SMART one, being the guy who gives you advice on your evil alien costume? This is probably because McFarlene wanted to draw The Thing more than the other characters. He draws him with this weird dinosaur ridge on his head. It's cool-looking, but I don't think Thing is supposed to look like that. Also, it just makes no sense that he's the one Peter is talking to.

So we all know the story, right? Eddie Brock, a disgraced journalist, is thinking about killing himself. He goes to a church to pray (he is Catholic, after all) and instead of being bathed in heavenly light, he is bathed in alien goop that Spidey used to wash in his sink. It's the alien costume! And it finds a friend in Eddie, who blames Spider-Man for his current, crappy life. Really, if you read the story Eddie lays it all down. At no point is it really Spider-Man's fault. It's hard to say that it's Eddie's fault, though. It's actually just kind of, life sucks dude. It wasn't his fault he got played by some chronic confessor, then reported a false story. Spider-Man caught the real killer, so it's his fault? That's kind of faulty logic, Eddie. The costume should have more of a beef because Peter actually tried to kill it. The story also makes a point to mention that the symbiote had no emotions before trying to bond to Parker; that Parker ended up giving the creature a measure of emotional intelligence it didn't have previously. Which also means he's sort of responsible for it hating him for the simple fact that it learned hate from him. That is kind of awesome in how unfortunate it is.

Whether you love him or hate him, Venom is a character that in the early '90s you couldn't really escape. It's funny how there are a lot of limited things you can do with the character; his single-minded quest to destroy Spider-Man as well as knowing that he and Peter Parker were one and the same noticeably excluded him from the mid-nineties cartoon following his first appearance. He does show up eventually, but I think by then he was so redeemable he wasn't even a villain anymore. I like how in initial stories, he isn't really portrayed as a bad guy; in fact, a back up story in this collection has him saving people in a truck stop (the story is amusingly titled, The Truck Stop from Hell!). Venom would go on to sort of be an anti-hero of sorts, but it is sad no writer has really captured the complexities of how great this character could really be.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the Blog Entry

For those of you who don't know me in my precious little real life, I was highly anticipating the release of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. After having a lot of initial doubts about the casting of Michael Cera in the title role I firmly get to stick it in my craw or whatever that expression is because he was genius. Once the trailer came out, I was basically drooling for the movie to come out. It didn't disappoint. I've seen it. Twice, natch.

Blogs are of course writing about how good it is but how the box office numbers don't necessarily reflect this. In fact, they really really don't. Which is a shame, because it's a high budget movie that basically found an artistic indie director (I will always kind of think of him as that Memento guy) and this film was supposed to be his first mainstream success. But people aren't getting it and it's being (largely) written off as a "youth" movie with no attention span. I think people have forgotten that first and foremost, movies are really there to be entertaining. More than that, Scott Pilgrim the film takes all the best things from the graphic novels (there's a lot of inside references that support the text if you give it a read, despite the fact that movie deviates from them in a lot of clever ways) and makes it accessible to a wider audience than just your average comic book nerd. It's sad that people aren't giving this movie a chance. Sad enough to make me write a blog entry about. Sad enough to go see the movie again a third (and possibly fourth) time.

Also, shout out to Michelle (my very own Envy Adams) who sent me the movie poster through the mail. It's hanging above my computer, and you basically can't escape it no matter where you go in my apartment. I also bought the soundtrack. And I want to buy the score (especially for the 'Roxy' track). Obsession can be a sick, sick thing.

Scott Pilgrim movie aside, I am now picking up a few more comics monthly. While I still have yet to read Simonson's Birds of Prey series (which is getting ridiculous; I have 4 issues in my 'comixbox' at home [it's like a 'mother box' but cooler]), I did catch up on both Winick's Red Hood miniseries which I'm oddly liking a lot and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer one-shot that just came out focusing on of all people Riley Finn. For those of you who don't know, Riley was an oft-hated character who dated Buffy after Angel did. This sort of sealed his fate; no one ever really liked him (except maybe some of the writers. I'm talking to YOU, Marti Noxon!). Ultimately, that's kind of sad because he became much more interested in the 5th Season of the show. He kind of realizes Buffy's drifting away from him, she's not realizing it, and he doesn't really like her friends. He became this weirdo loner character, and eventually leaves mid-season when, let's face it, they ran out of things to do with him. Marc Blucas was both sexy and heartbreaking; I was actually kind of sad when he left Buffy; his send-off was much better and worked better story-wise than when Seth Green had left the show over a year earlier. Anyway, that's Riley. He came back once and was married to some hootchy that everyone just had to love because of how badass and cool she was. Horrible character, in my opinion, who I constantly come up with "how she died after the show ended" scenarios in my head for. True fans of Buffy will agree with me. She sucked.

Jane Espenson, much beloved writer of episodes like Earshot and Triangle to name just a few, penned this single one-shot from Dark Horse focusing on why Riley mysteriously appears as a bad guy (then a good guy) in the ongoing Buffy series. It's sad, because with so much going on, Riley definitely faded into the background during the ongoing series. Is he even still alive? I don't even think the let us know. Anyway, Jane wrote a Jonathan Levinson book awhile back that was genius, so it's no surprise that her Riley issue is really, really strong here. She made me care about his marriage. What? I hated that chick! But here, it's like they are an old married couple who happen to be awesome super spies that are let's face it, never really going to get to retire. They are trying to talk about kids, but like while disarming warheads. Fun stuff like that. The issue is just kind of a back and forth between Riley and Mrs. Riley (her name is Sam. SAM! That is so dumb! It's like she's a dude!) talking about him helping Buffy out, their relationship, etc. But it works. I enjoyed it enough to say it's probably going to be one of my favorite issues of the whole series, maybe seconded only to Harmony's issue where she becomes a reality TV star.

There's also some stuff about Angel talking to the forgotten character of Whistler that's nice but that I really didn't care about. The single panel shots featuring the Twilight design though are nice. I really, really love his mask and overall trenchcoat look. Karl Moline drew the issue (he also drew the Frey crossover in the ongoing) and his work is top-notch here. He obviously had time to really do it up. Anyway, I promised some rants on single issues I read, so thar ya go. I'm inspired to geek out over comics by going through back issues of the 4th Letter, which now appears in my blog links to the left side of the screen. I already have chosen Gavok as my favorite writer there. So many good comic nerd points are made on that blog, I can't even begin to describe how much I love it. Oh yeah, you should also go see Scott Pilgrim. Right now he's vs. the Box Office, and he needs your help to touch the back of their knees.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Updates, Smupdates

I shouldn't have to tell you to go see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. You should have already seen it. Twice. Like me (...and I'm probably going a 3rd time, too!). The fight between Ramona and Roxy is reason enough to pay the $13.50, kids. Go now, GO!

So my lack of reading trend continues. I have been catching up on so many movies I really wanted to see over the past few years, but never really got the chance to. Last night was Factory Girl with Sienna Miller. She was kind of amazing, even if they did sort of pick and choose what parts of the reality of Andy Warhol's life and times the decided to portray. I think you can still take away that it was entertaining. And Hayden as a faux Bob Dylan was super sexy. Sort of like he was born to play that role.

After buying comics on a monthly basis, I'm ready to spend a night or two finally catching up on issues I'm getting but haven't been reading. This includes a bunch I previously Bookmooched but never read (there were two issues of Green Arrow in there, including one when he fights Mirror Master) and that Spider-Man epic "The Birth of Venom." I believe I promised you a review. If I didn't, I'm doing it now. I might even start reviewing single issues comics, since at least that would give me something to write about. I'm going to start reading the new Birds of Prey series (I have the first 3 issues) and I'm buying all the single issues of the Red Hood Jason Todd story. So I promise, you will get something from me soon. This is boring. It's just me justifying not reading. I like to let you know that I didn't forget I had a blog; I just stopped caring a little.

In other news, read this blog called The 4th Letter. It has an extensive Top 100 What If? Countdown that I found AMAZING. I remember many of the issues (and have that at my home in NH still) and the reviews are accurate, as well as massively entertaining. I LOL'd guys, literally.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

CURRENT: Witch & Wizard

My summer dry spell continues. After successfully cleaning up my office and donating books to many worthy causes (including sending several to a program on Rikers Island- you can learn how to the same here) I was left with very few books on my shelf.

If you guys remember all my Book Expo 2010 planning, you'll remember that Little, Brown sent me a bunch of copies of James Patteron's newish YA novel Witch & Wizard. While I found several deserving teens to hand the books out to, I was left with several hardcover copies on my shelf. After my massive clean out, I still had one left. I've never read James Patterson before, despite his popularity. I figured maybe it was time. I've read the first few short chapters and the story is pretty good. It's about some totalitarian near-future world where the government has been supplanted by someone sort of dictator called 'The One.' The brother-and-sister Allgoods, the novel's protagonists, are captured by this government in the beginning. While it hasn't been revealed why, I think it's safe to assume that it's probably because they have some sort of latent magical powers. Definitely a mysterious mood at the beginning as we discover this new world, and the action is a nice change of place since it's been awhile since I read something exciting that wasn't a graphic novel. I'm thinking of keeping the book at work and reading on my break time, as opposed to lugging it around with me everywhere I go. I think I might even finish it quickly this way.

I apologize for not blogging more. It's been happening with my work blog as well; it turns out that when I'm not reading, I have nothing to blog about it. I have been continuing my trend of watching movies lately, and a backlog of housework is really cutting into time for fun stuff like reading. I'm actually partially reading the Patterson book just so I have something to blog about. This is probably a bad reason to start reading a book, but I'm optimistic that I actually might enjoy it. It's also nice not to really be in a rush to finish a book, with a book review deadline or trying to nominate it for a booklist committee. I'm thinking about starting to read the Suzanne Collins books since Mockingjay is coming out in less than a month. What do you guys think should I read it?