Tuesday, January 16, 2018

War on Everyone

Note: There's a brief mention of child rape in this movie review, because there's a brief mention of it in the film. Figured I'd state that up front, just in case.

I think War on Everyone is meant to be a comedic buddy cop movie. You have the two cops, Bob (Michael Pena) a family man, Terry (Alexander Skarsgard)  the reckless, tortured loner with a rough past, and they're trying to bring down some "untouchable" bigshot crook. But they're after him because they want the million dollars he had stolen from a racetrack, rather than any desire to bring him to justice or whatever.

I said I think it's meant to be a comedic buddy cop movie. I'm not sure for a few reasons. One, most of the attempts at jokes weren't very funny. There are a couple of winners, but overall, not a great success rate. Two, there are some abrupt shifts into being really serious. There's a kid involved in this mess, and it's revealed near the end that his father was mixed up with this crimelord, and let said crimelord use the boy in adult films. That gets dropped in there with a big thud, I presume to explain the shift in the Terry's motivations at the end, given what we learned about his past earlier.

But both cops have been so indifferent to everyone else's suffering up to this point it's hard to buy. They find a woman sobbing over a dying man, they calmly eat their burgers and complain she won't stop screaming. The SWAT teams kill a couple of suspects in a "questionable" shooting, and they make a joke about how often that happens. They beat suspects, then extort them in exchange for not being arrested. It's kind of hard to buy these guys suddenly not being assholes. Adding it to the kid's story feels like a lazy attempt at adding some weight to the story, or trying to be edgy. Ooh, we mentioned child molestation for about three seconds! We went there! We watched the crimelord decapitate a guy five minutes earlier, and he's been firmly established as a sadistic, elitist rich boy. I don't think the audience was going to be too bothered if he got killed.

The film doesn't earn the weight it's trying for, and most of the jokes don't land, so it doesn't work on that level either.

Monday, January 15, 2018

What I Bought 1/6/2018

I went running this morning, fortunately before the front moved in and the wind chill went below zero. I had to hop off the road because of an approaching vehicle and as my stride was bringing my left leg forward, my right leg slipped in the snow and slid right in front of the left. So my left knee has bruised the hell out of the right calf. Fun and games.

Let's jump into some comics from 2018. I have all the books I wanted from the last two weeks, so we'll work through those over this week and early next week. Going to start with a couple of mini-series.

Atomic Robo: The Spectre of Tomorrow #3, by Brian Clevinger (writer), Scott Wegener (artist), Anthony Clark (colorist), Jeff Powell (letterer and design) - I'm sure they'll prove useful, but those little robots creep me out. Make me think of ticks, bleh.

People are continuing to barf out robotic guts and collapse, and CERES is not getting anywhere figuring out the cause. Maybe if they spent less time taking down footage of the events from the Internet they'd get somewhere. Robo is continuing to receive the data secretly and recognizes the same signal ALAN, the sentient computer that was going to leave Earth (and eradicate all life in the process) used, and heads to Hashima Island to investigate. He encounters some strange creature, and what's worse, Helsingard in an even stranger body. Yes, stranger than his usual brain in a jar mounted on a robot body.

I still feel this is someone trying to cause a panic, and Helsingard would seem a likely choice, except causing fear isn't really his style. He tends to conquer or kill. Dr. Fischer got accidentally taken along. We'll see if he drags himself from the depths of depression to make a contribution (or if Robo actually notices and tries and address that). Robo's really been a lousy boss this entire mini-series, or maybe he's always been bad at being a boss.

 Wegener has a tendency to simply his style when the characters in the panel are in the middle or far distance, because he uses a thick line, and to attempt to add too much detail would turn everything into a muddle. But there are a few panels in here where things are almost vague shapes more than characters (the panel after the creature tears through the plane, for one). Also, whether it's Wegener's job or Clark's, they need to add a pupil to characters' eyes in those panels as well. Sometimes they get away with it, and others it like my eyes are drawn immediately to the empty white spaces that are their eyeballs. There's one of Lang and Vik in particular that bothers me. I can't concentrate on anything else in the panel.

That said, I like the design on the robot, and the fight between it and Robo is good (although I still wonder how Robo's not better at fighting after all these years). It's brief, but there's a flow to it. Let Robo and the creature fight it out for a couple pages, establish what they're up against. Then Foley gets involved with the grenade launcher, which adds another element (and they break up the fight by cutting to a panel of her doing something or reacting every three panels or so). Then throw in the surprise, last-page arrival of possibly the villain. Things go bad, things get better, things go bad ahead, things get better, or possibly worse. It's well done.

The best part was Robo stealing Richard Branson's plane to get to Hashima, and referring to himself in third person when Branson does the same while asking why he's stealing the plane. I like that as a little bit of revenge for all the grief Branson's giving them. Even better, the plane was wrecked five seconds into their arrival on the island.

And I'd love to see Robo outfit himself with a rocket punch. Why not? Oooh, and some of those gravity boots like Samus Aran has, so he can double-jump! I'm being entirely serious.

Rogue and Gambit #1, by Kelly Thompson (writer), Pere Perez (artist), Frank D'Armata (colorist), Joe Caramagna (letterer) - It seems like bad tactics for Rogue to be arriving at the thing she's going to punch at the same time Gambit's exploding playing cards get there. Let one set up the other, right?

There's a couples' therapy island where mutants are vanishing, so Kitty (who looks strange with short hair) sends Rogue and Gambit, since it would be better if the duo actually have relationship issues. Now let's face it, you could pick any of about 50 X-Men, and find at least 10 others they'd have relationship issues with, but yeah, those two have a mess of them, and Gambit is in theory good at sneaking, so sure, why not? He keeps trying to rekindle things, Rogue keeps trying to maintain distance. Because she's a reasonably intelligent woman. The last page looks bad, but is probably a misdirection.

Basically a set-up issue. Get the pieces where they need to be, explain why they're there, establish current dynamic between them. The book does that reasonably well, although I can't disagree with people who say this relationship needs to be left in the past. I think Rogue's experienced enough that she can tell Gambit is never going to be someone she can count on in a relationship. He insists that they could try just being friends, but can't stop flirting and hinting that she must still be into him. Then he gets indignant about her kissing Deadpool, and Rogue points out she's had to hear about his escapades from other X-Men plenty of times. Gambit is always going to be that kind of person.

(To be fair to Gambit, not a phrase I expected to type, he brought up Deadpool because Rogue is back to using her powers as an excuse to maintain distance, and he pointed out she had her powers during her little session with Deadpool. Although perhaps Gambit should take the hint.)

But even if this mini-series tries to draw a line under that relationship, and there's no guarantee it will, we know someone else will come along eventually and try to start it up again. The same way writers have kept drifting back around to Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne, even when that is a terrible idea (although thankfully that one has been mostly left alone the last 10 years, since one or the other of them has been dead or Ultron most of that time). So is there a point to this whole exercise then? I guess hope it can be entertaining.

And there were some parts I liked. Rogue deciding, if Gambit is going to bring up Deadpool, to use Wade to hit Gambit in his ego, where it'll hurt the most. The Danger Room session, where apparently Rogue/Gambit is a topic of much discussion among the students.

Pere Perez does a double-page splash of the Rogue and Gambit seemingly at each others' throats that is foreshadowing something. The background is one of those fragmented mirrors, where the shards are showing different moments from their shared history. There was one panel I thought Perez was trying to mimic one of the Kubert brother's '90s art (if you flip through the issue, it's the one in the lower right, with Gambit being carried by Rogue, and he's wearing a high-collared jacket), and maybe a couple of the others, but I can't be sure. Since most of the issue is talking, there's a lot of panels or people just sitting and talking, but Perez does a good job of making the body language clear and work together with the expressions and the dialogue. His work looks smoother than I remember the last time I saw it, which was either the Bryan Q. Miller Batgirl series, or that Power Man and Iron Fist mini-series from 5 or 6 years ago. But D'Armata's colors work also seems more varied and with greater depth than what I remember the colorists of those books doing, so maybe that's what's different.

Overall, I don't think there's anything wrong with the writing or art. Everyone involved is doing solid work. I'm mostly unsure about the point of it, I guess, and whether I care enough at this point to pick up the second issue.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Alternate Favorite Marvel Characters #10 - Taskmaster

Character: Taskmaster (Tony Masters)

Creators: David Michelinie and George Perez

First appearance: Avengers #195

First encounter: Amazing Spider-Man #367. I think he appears on the last page and cover of the issue before, but that didn't tell me anything about him, so let's pick this issue, where Spider-Man and Solo run up against some guys trained by Taskmaster while pursuing leads on ULTIMATUM and the Red Skull.

Definitive writer: Gail Simone used him as a regular member of the cast in her Deadpool and Agent X runs, and that's probably the version I think of. A gun-for-hire to be sure, ruthless when he feels like it, cocky to the point of being almost insufferable. Not really trustworthy at any time, but when he found a few people he cared about he did try to help them, in his own way.

Definitive artist: I've only seen him draw one comic with Taskmaster, but I think I'll go with Stuart Immonen. There's a fluidness to his style to fits how I picture Taskmaster moving, he makes the pirate boots and cape look good, and he makes sure the skull mask is partially in shadow, which helps make it look more like a mask and less like it's his actual face (which it isn't supposed to be).

Favorite moment or story: In the final issue of his first mini-series, Taskmaster #4, Taskmaster is trying to take revenge on Sunset Bain, who had used him and then tried to betray him and leave him for dead, as vicious criminal industrialists often do. He's made his way through her security guards and most of her defenses, but she has one guy left. An enhanced human, fast and strong enough to catch bullets.

Taskmaster knew he'd have to deal with that guy, so he watched footage of himself on fast-forward, and for a few moments, he's able to make his own body move with that kind of swiftness, which is enough to get past the goon's defenses and drop him.

It's a clever move, while still keeping in mind that Taskmaster does have limits to what he can manage, regardless of his powers. He would like to kill Bain, but the cops are coming. Normally they wouldn't be any problem, but between a bullet he took earlier, and his own exhaustion after that stunt, he has to bail. Mostly though, I just think it's a cool trick.

What I like about him: Not every villain has to be someone's arch-nemesis. Not every battle has to be a titanic struggle for the fate of the hero's loved one, or the fate of the world. Sometimes you just need a fun villain to give the hero someone to fight for an issue or two. much like Arcade, who holds the #6 spot on the favorite characters list, Taskmaster is great for that role.

His superpower is cool, for one thing. The ability to learn almost any skill, instantly? I would be all over that. Cuts out all that time lost practicing. As an antagonist it gives him a wide array of abilities to draw from to challenge the hero with. But since he still has to be able to physically do whatever the skill is, there are limits to keep him from being too overwhelming. He isn't the Super-Adaptoid. It isn't as though he can watch Charles Xavier put his fingers to his temple while muttering, "To me, my X-Men," and the next thing you know, he can seize control of your mind.

There's a story in Kurt Busiek's Avengers' run, issue 26, where Taskmaster is hired to impersonate Captain America and trick a group of heroes into attacking a building controlled by a religious group the Avengers are having issues with. It's a quartet of heroes - Carol Danvers, Genis-Vell, Silverclaw, and Scott Lang - who haven't worked with Cap much, or at all with each other, so it takes them awhile to figure out something's off. Once they do, Taskmaster drops the disguise and sics some of his students on them. When that fails, he fights all four of them by himself, and because he's been watching and studying their moves, for a time he's mopping the floor with them.

I feel like that issue includes most of what I like about Taskmaster. It's not a big revenge scheme on his part, just a job. But he enjoys the opportunity to jerk the Avengers around a bit, and when the disguise fails, he owns it and openly challenges them. Then he uses it as a chance to test some of his students, while using that as a chance to figure out these Avengers' moves. He's able to use what he's picked up (and their relative inexperience working together) to more than hold his own. But he loses when Genis charges him, then switches places with Rick Jones at the last second.

There's a lot of pieces there. The fact none of it is personal, just a paycheck. The occasional villain who despises the hero is fun - there'll be one of those later on in this series - but sometimes you want the guy who is simply doin' a job. It means you can use him against just about any hero, and depending on what the job is, he has a chance. Sure, Taskmaster probably can't defeat Iron Man in a one-on-one battle, but if all he needs to do is keep him off-balance long enough to finish stealing something and escape? Yeah, he can manage that.

So he can present a challenge, but not one so overwhelming that it seems impossible the hero can win. Taskmaster is ultimately mostly human is his abilities. He has limits, and he can be particularly vulnerable to surprise, precisely because he's so sure of himself. If he thinks he's seen everything you've got already, then he's sure he has some trick he copied from someone to counter it. If you can bust out something new, you can catch him entirely flat-footed. Case in point: That hodgepodge Avengers quartet wins when Genis charges at Taskmaster only to switch places at the last second with his counterpart Rick Jones, who kicks a gobsmacked Taskmaster right in chops.

At different times Taskmaster has fended off the Avengers, eluded Spider-Man, brought down Cassie Lang and Eric O'Grady while they were 50-feet tall and fighting each other. And at other times he gets clocked by an RJO  (Rick Jones Onslaught)From Outta Nowhere, or loses to Deadpool when Wade is fighting with his wrists and ankles cuffed. If he doesn't have time to adjust, or the opponent is just too unpredictable, he can lose really badly. And sometimes he loses to Moon Knight because Moonie is just too fuckin' crazy to stop coming at him, and Taskmaster is ultimately just here for a paycheck. He's not looking to die fighting some nutjob that talks to the moon.

He used that job with the Avengers as a chance to test some of his students, and the schools he sets up are an interesting variation on his shtick. Most of the mercenary types in comics don't like to hand out trade secrets. Maybe they take a student every so often, but why create potential competition? Taskmaster, maybe because of just how many skills he has, maybe because it's so easy for him to pick things up, he shrugs and says, "Let me make some extra bucks off this."

Why not? There are all kinds of organizations that need cannon fodder, and that cannon fodder needs to be marginally useful. Taskmaster knows all sorts of things that can help with that. He's not going to train these guys up to the point they could take some of his more high-paying gigs, so it's an easy way to make some more money, and one that greatly reduces his chances of getting punched in the face by superheroes. And it keeps more avenues open to him for future work.

Also, I think it shows something about his attitude towards all the skills he has. He's pretty cocky about it, how quickly he can learn someone's moves, how many he's got. He's taken jobs for the government to get access to the World War 2 film archives, so he could study footage of heroes who are dead. He's the person who wants to know everything he can pick up about fighting, killing, infiltration, foreign languages, any skill that could possibly be helpful.

At the same time, because he can pick everything up so effortlessly, it doesn't mean as much. He copies Iron Fist's Flying Eagle Strike, so what? Just another skill. Throw it on the pile next that triple flip he picked up from Nightcrawler. I think he figures, what's the point of being able to do all this stuff if you can't show it off? Almost every fight he has, he has to namedrop who he stole each move from. Blah blah blah, drinking buddies with Bullseye, blah blah blah Daredevil's billy club block, blah blah blah. Training people and setting them up with HYDRA or AIM (or probably SHIELD) is just one more way to show off. "See how much stuff I taught these guys? I can do that, because I know all this stuff. Aren't I cool?"

Scott Lang gave Taskmaster some grief over his costume. He's a pirate, but also a skeleton, plus he threw in a cloak, pick a theme. It's part of that need to show off. Be garish, get attention, have some showmanship. It's not as though he can't dress down, wear a disguise. He can easily mimic another person's movements and speech patterns after all. If that's what the job requires, he'll go that route. If he wanted, he could be one of those legendary assassins spoken of in whispers. The one whose true face and voice no one has ever seen and lived to tell about it. But that's not how he plays it. Sometimes you need to be flashy, you need people to notice you, and his outfit certainly accomplishes that.

For the record, I don't mind the "track suit" look the Udon art team gave him; it has a pleasant simplicity to it, wouldn't restrict his movements, and the skull helmet is very cool. But it lacks that flashy element that seems key to Taskmaster.

Taskmaster has had two mini-series so far, and they took opposite approaches towards his memory. The first one, by the Udon Studios crew, which said he'd had the powers since he was a child at least, stated he remembered every moment of his life with perfect clarity. The second one, by Fred van Lente and Jefte Palo, said that he gained the power because he was a SHIELD agent who injected an experimental formula he found in a HYDRA base into his head, and that he could barely remember anything about himself because he had learned so many skills they were taking up all the space in his brain.

The van Lente/Palo mini-series went for the notion that Masters had cost himself dearly by using the serum, and while I thought the whole "forgotten wife" reveal was a bit much, the idea that his memory for people and events is almost non-existent did seem to work with his willingness to work with anyone. Taskmaster really doesn't seem to hold a lot of grudges, and will work with anybody just about, even if they parted on bad terms the last time. He's fought the Avengers multiple times, but was willing to take over training the new recruits at their Initiative camp. Deadpool has humiliated him more than once, but he and Wade might almost be considered friends. Taskmaster has been willing to help Deadpool in the past, and while I'm sure he's getting paid, Deadpool doesn't usually have that much money. Tasky could get more on another job elsewhere easily, but he still works with this crazy guy who has busted his jaw multiple times.

But if he only vaguely, or occasionally, remembers who anyone is, it could make sense. He approaches each meeting fresh, and judges the person based off what he they say and do that time. If we go with the idea that second mini-series put forth, that Taskmaster on some level remembers he abandoned his wife by taking this serum and forgetting her, even if it's only a vague sense that he's a bad person, he might see a kindred spirit in Deadpool. When Taskmaster has helped Wade, Wade is usually in trouble for one reason or another, rather than it being a random "Kill this person for lots of cash" job. The attempt to do the right thing, or fix a past mistake could resonate with Taskmaster.

Because there's really no reason for him to willingly pose for a photo where it looks as though one of the washout Initiative recruits has defeated him, except just to be nice. The kid tried hard, but the nature of his power didn't seem to allow for things to work out for him as a superhero. If Masters supposedly always wanted to be the best, and took the serum to achieve that, he could feel empathy. Or maybe he remembers everything about his own life, knows he was never like that kid, but still figured there was no harm in giving the kid a good memory to go home with. He met Sandi and fell for her, and while that ended with her in the hospital, he did stay in the vicinity and try to sort of look out for her. He didn't always do this in healthy ways - killing the abusive boyfriend she told Deadpool just to beat up, trying to kill Alex Hayden (Agent X) because he thought he was bad news - but it's out of a genuine concern and desire to make up for his own mistakes, so the intent is good, at least.

Taskmaster has a lot of versatility, which comes in handy. Play him as a bad guy, play him as a surprise ally, or even a friend. Use his skills to make him a surprisingly difficult opponent for people in a higher weight class, or the limitations to bring about his defeat. Heck, you can make some gags out of him possessing some unusual or unexpected skill he picked up randomly.He's learned how to cheat at cards, but he also knows how to make a little flower out of a radish, because he picked up the technique from a restaurant. Give him a surprisingly good singing voice, or adept at carving marionettes. There are all kinds of possibilities.

Taskmaster picks up the pace, because he's got places to be, people to kill in Taskmaster (vol. 1) #4, by Ken Siu-Chong (writer), Jon Babcock (letterer), and the art team of Arnold Tsang, Drew Hou, Omar Dogan, Robb Ross, and Shane Law. Taskmaster makes some Avengers look like chumps, then is defeated by Scott Lang's favorite musician in Avengers (vol. 3) #26, by Kurt Busiek (writer), Stuart Immonen (penciler), Wade von Grawbadger (inker), Tom Smith (colorist), Richard Starkings and Albert Duchesne (letterers). Scott Lang has another bad day in Ant-Man #3, by Nick Spencer (writer), Ramon Rosanas (artist), Jordan Boyd (color artist), and Travis Lanham (letterer). For every $10,000 you donate to PBS, Taskmaster will kick Hawkeye in the face once in Avengers (vol. 1) #223, by David Michelinie (writer), Greg LaRocque (penciler), Brett Breeding and crew (inkers), Christie Scheele (colorist), and Rick Parker (letterer). Tasky prefers the drums, but still saves the day in Taskmaster (vol. 2) #2, by Fred van Lente (writer), Jefte Palo (penciler), Jean-Francois Beaulieu (color artist), and Dave Lanphear (letterer).

Friday, January 12, 2018

2017 Comics in Review - Part 5

I need to come up with a less clunky way to work the names of the creators on the books into those summarizing paragraphs. Anyway, lists! Most of these were actually pretty tough this year. Of course, in some cases that was due less to lots of high quality candidates, and more because there were almost no candidates.

As always, if I didn't buy it, it isn't in the running. So yeah, it's a limited field, but you don't want me ranking books I've only vaguely heard of.

Favorite Ongoing Series (min. 6 issues purchased this year):

1. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
2. Unbelievable Gwenpool

Giant Days came up one issue short of qualifying, which is too bad. It would have been a strong contender for #1. Can it maintain that momentum in 2018?! Of the actual qualifiers, Scarlet Spider and Deadpool were both out of the running since they got dropped. Can't very well be my favorite if I was fed up enough to stop buying it, right? The art on Copperhead couldn't keep up with the other four contenders, and Squirrel Girl and Gwenpool were far ahead on the entertainment scale, so the last spot came down to Ms. Marvel or Cave Carson. But then I couldn't decide between them. I like the Oeming/Filardi art team more than Ian Herring and some of the artists he teamed with, but not all of them. Cave Carson lagged in the last three issues, but I wasn't that excited about Ms. Marvel's fight with the computer program, either.

So ultimately, I punted on the whole decision. Whee! As for Numbers 1 and 2, Squirrel Girl won out narrowly because I think it was more consistent. Gwenpool's artists varied quite a bit in skill, so the quality of the art did as well, while Squirrel Girl has the Erica Henderson/Rico Renzi team there gettin' it done each month. I probably prefer Chris Hastings as a writer to Ryan North, but it's more variable. At it's best, I probably enjoy Gwenpool more, but it wasn't at that level enough to edge Squirrel Girl.

Favorite Mini-Series:

1. Empowered: Soldier of Love
2. Avengers: Four

It was a limited field this year. I require the mini-series to have shipped at least half its issues in the year in question. Which ruled out Atomic Robo, Demon, and Deadman. Wynonna Earp and Real Science Adventures each got dropped part way through, which would seem to disqualify them. I have more fondness for the Kooky Quartet than Empowered, and I was probably more invested in the story in Avengers: Four. But all that variability in the art really hurts Avengers. Being able to maintain the consistent look the story wants is kind of important. So Karla Diaz producing quality work for the entirety of the series tips it in Soldier of Love's favor.

Favorite One-Shot:

1. Master of Kung-Fu
2. Justice League of America: The Ray
3. Darkhawk

Master of Kung-Fu was the easy winner. It does provide a set-up for future stories if that opportunity occurs, but it focuses primarily on just telling a story. Even abnormally muddied art from Talijac is solid. The battle for #2 was close. I'm more interested in the potential of what Darkhawk put out there, which is probably irrelevant since I doubt it'll be followed up. I prefer Kev Walker's art. I don't like either of the books' costume redesigns. I think Steve Orlando probably did a better job telling a story, without feeling so exposition-heavy.

Favorite Trade Paperback/Graphic Novel (anything I bought is fair game):

1. Collen Coover and Paul Tobin's Bandette Vol. 3: The House of the Green Mask
2. Steve Gerber, Gene Colan, Val Mayerik, and a bunch of other people's Howard the Duck: The Complete Collection Vol. 2
3. John Allison and Max Sarin's Giant Days Vol. 3
4. Steve Ditko and Denny O'Neil's The Creeper by Steve Ditko

It isn't quite written into this blog's constitution that Bandette wins favorite GN any year I buy a volume, but it's pretty close. Note that doesn't guarantee a win in the future. The blog constitution was made to be broken. It was written 200, er 10 years ago! Times have changed! (Yes the blog is over 10 years old, but I had to destroy the first constitution because there were too many clauses about hitting Chuck Austen with pipe wrenches left over from a previous adm - this gag has gone too long).

I know it seems strange to list O'Neil on a book that's title literally says it was by Steve Ditko, full stop. But O'Neil does get most of the writing or dialogue credits on the earlier stories, which were the ones I liked, so I figured his name deserved to be there. I haven't read through either of the Howard the Duck collections in a few months, but my recollection is that I enjoyed the second volume more than the first. Maybe because it had moved beyond the early stage where Gerber was still getting things into place. I don't give a flip about Man-Thing and his touch that burns your fear. Get some ointment and move on.

Favorite Writers:

1. Christopher Hastings
2. John Allison
3. Ryan North

I opted not to factor in back issues or trade paperbacks this year, for two reasons. One, if I did I felt I needed to do the same for the artists, and that wasn't something I was prepared to do. Two, before I decided that, when I was trying to factor them in, it wasn't clarifying things as much as I wanted. Even among my old stand-bys, the stuff of theirs I bought was not their best.

Anyway, I picked Hastings first because, as I said in Favorite Ongoing, at his best I really like his work. I like his sense of humor, and I like the things he comes up with to put in his stories. And he can write something that works emotionally when he wants to.

Favorite Artists (min. 110 pages):

1. Guruhiru
2. Max Sarin
3. Michael Avon Oeming

So I didn't want to have to factor in the artists for all those trades and such. It was going to be even harder because Steve Ditko's '60s Creeper was pretty awesome, but that trade included his work from the late 1970s, which was not nearly so awesome. So how do I account for that? To hell with it.

Of the artists, the Guruhiru team edged out Sarin because I haven't seen Max Sarin draw a fight scene yet. There were a couple of close calls, but they always get cut off. And I loves me some entertaining fight scenes. Oeming had some fight scenes to draw, and they weren't bad, but I like Sarin's figurework better. His work suits the humor that crops up most of the time in Giant Days.

And that's it. Year in Review posts are done until such time as we have another year to review. Sunday is going to be an Alternate Favorite Character post, if I get off my ass and get it done, and then Monday we'll look at some books that have come out this year.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

2017 Comics in Review - Part 4

Not as many titles today, because two of them account for over 20% of all the new comics I bought. Kind of how it went this year. A lot of titles I bought for a month or two, and then a handful that lasted the whole year. And it really wasn't because I was buying a bunch of mini-series, those only make up 17 or 18 of the total. There are only 4 one-shots. Books just kept getting canceled or I dropped them after a few issues. It'd be nice if this year turns out different, since that would mean I was enjoying what I was buying, and it would be selling well.

Steven Universe #1, 2: I gave this book a whirl because I do so enjoy Steven Universe, but I am not the target demographic here. The stories and the art are fine, but they're aimed younger. I think Melanie Gillman, Katy Farina, Whitney Cogar, and Mike Fiorentino are actually trying to make a book for young children. The nerve.

Tick 2017 #1, 2: Cullen Bunn and JimmyZ are writing about the Tick's origin, which involves Canada, and lumberjacking. I'm not sure the Tick is a character that really needs his origin explored, but if they throw enough weird and/or funny stuff in there, I can roll with it. Douglas Paszkiewicz, whose Arsenic Lullaby is a favorite of mine, drew the first issue, but then Duane Redhead drew the second issue. So I don't know what the artist situation is for the book. Alternating? A different artist every issue?

Tinkers of the Wasteland #1: I grabbed this on a whim, because the cover looked cool. Reminded me a little of a Gorillaz album. Written and drawn by Raul Trevino, about a trio of teens trying to survive a post-apocalyptic world. By stealing chickens from a bunch of Road Warrior style chumps. And there was going to be something about aliens in there. I couldn't get into the writing, though.

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #15-26: Squirrel Girl celebrated her birthday, received a nifty flying suit from a wealthy benefactor who turned out to be evil, fought DINOSAUR ULTRON in the Savage Land, and might be going into space soon, if Loki can get his act together. Ryan North wrote all the issues (except for parts of the "jam" issue, #25), Erica Henderson drew all the issues (except #25, which had several artists), Rico Renzi colored all the issues, and Travis Lanham was the letterer for all of them.

High Point: Ahem, did you miss DINOSAUR ULTRON? Do you really need anything else? I can't believe we got Frank Cho's stupid Naked Lady Ultron a friggin' decade before we got DINOSAUR ULTRON. Let's see, what else? Brain Drain's dialogue. 'Would any cool bros here like to consent to hanging out? Complete my forthcoming high five in three seconds to indicate yes.' His straightforward nihilism is also funny. It resonates with me. I really liked the design on that flying squirrel outfit. It's mostly shades of brown, but the belt pouches and the blue chest emblem add just enough color to make it work. There are a lot of other individual gags or panels that were fantastic, as well.

Low Point: Issue 25. Those jam issues so rarely work. Too hit-or-miss, especially when the typical level for an issue of the comic is as high as this book's is. Other than that, I can't really think of anything. Melissa Morbeck (the wealthy benefactor) got tiring with her casual arrogance and dismissive attitude towards Doreen's attempts to reason with her, but that was the point. She's like all sorts of horrible people wrecking the world right now, and those people are very tiring to deal with, too.

Unbelievable Gwenpool #11-23: Gwen went solo, ran into Blade (drawn by Myisha Haynes), got trapped in a new Murderworld with her old friends where she nearly killed Deadpool (drawn by partially by Guruhiru and partially by Alti Firmansyah), teamed up with Kate Bishop and Ghost Rider to save her ghost friend Cecil (drawn by Myisha Haynes), discovered a new power and her evil future self (drawn by Guruhiru), and tried to kill Dr. Doom (drawn by Irene Strychalski). Christopher Hastings wrote it all, with Rachelle Rosenberg coloring everything not done by Guruhiru (since that team handles the line art and color art).

High Point: The fight with Deadpool was my favorite moment. The way Gwen is able to tip things in her favor, and the way Wade twists it back, the switch from Firmansyah doing the art to Guruhiru at the moment that happens. I think it helped demonstrate a difference in the two characters. Hastings didn't nerf Dr. Doom, and he writes a great angry Doom. 'You would open a dam because it is not satisfying enough to drown in a puddle.' Great line. And, Gwen responds by describing his speech as 'Shakespeare's angriest fart,' also pretty great.

Low Point: I didn't care much about the two-part L.A. adventure, issues 14 & 15. Might be my indifference to Kate Bishop and Robbie Reyes, but it isn't as though I'm some huge Blade fan, and I liked issue 11 just fine. But I think issue 11 told me something about Gwen as a character, whereas the two-parter just seemed like an excuse for Kate to be unsure about the pink girl trying to murder everyone.

Wynonna Earp - Season Zero #1, 2: This was going to fill in some gaps about the kind of trouble Wynonna got into prior to joining her current group. Which seemed to involve a bunch of angry mercenaries. The were certain things about the writing (by Beau Smith, with Tim Rozon contributing to the story) I didn't dig. A sharp increase in the animosity between Agent Dolls and Doc Holliday, or Wynonna seeming to recognize there was no point in trying to keep her friends out of this, only to immediately try to sneak off alone anyway. The big fight that was coming up might have been good, but Angel Hernandez' art wasn't inspiring a lot of confidence. And letterer Christa Miesner was taking an approach with the sound effects better suited for the Adam West Batman show than this particular book. I would normally appreciate a person being thrown across a room with a big WHOOOOSH sound effect, but it doesn't really fit the tone here.

That's it for the individual titles. Tomorrow we wrap this up with everybody's favorite thing: lists! Which things will win my coveted seal of approval? You can probably already guess, but click on the post anyway. Maybe I'll type something funny!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

2017 Comics in Review - Part 3

I like to keep track of who's drawing the pages of the comics I'm buying, and how many pages they draw. I set some arbitrary cutoffs at 110 and 154 pages. Five artists reached the lower cutoff: Max Sarin (110), Mark Bagley (111), the Guruhiru team (125), Scott Koblish (140), and Drew Moss (140). Two artists made it past the higher cutoff: Michael Avon Oeming (198), and, as the leader for the second time in three years, Erica Henderson (220 pages, or 11 issues)!

No one else really came close to the lower cutoff. For the second year in a row, Ms. Marvel bounced between artists so much it didn't get a single pencil artist to do more than five issues, despite shipping 12 times. There just aren't many series I bought enough issues of for their artist to reach that page total, even if the book kept the same artist.

Justice League of America #1: Batman decided they needed a somehow more down-to-Earth JLA, which sounds like another Outsiders, but let him call it what he likes I guess. Steve Orlando, Ivan Reis, with Joe Prado and Oclair Albert on inks, Marcelo Maiolo as colorist, and Clayton Cowles lettering. This is the recruitment drive issue. At least Orlando got it over with in one issues. AS long as you don't count those one-shots they did about most of the characters. And was there a #0 issue? Whatever. This issue still boils down to Batman strutting around barking orders, which certainly seems like a good way to build a team that hates your guts. To be fair, he has taken a lot of hits to the head. Pass.

Justice League of America - The Ray: Hey, here's one of those one-shots! Stever Orlando wrote this, too, with Stephen Byrne handling the art, and Clayton Cowles on lettering duties again. Changed the origin a little, with Ray living with his mom, running away from home, figuring out his powers on his own. It's not bad as a one-shot, tracing this arc of Ray being forced to hide himself in one form or another, and finally deciding not to do that any longer. Sort of. Have to make allowances for the secret identity thing.

Master of Kung-Fu #126: Another of the Marvel Legacy things. Shang-Chi tracks down a crazy ex-Hand scientist who was trying to teach animals martial arts, and was then just going to transplant Shang's brain into an octopus. That doesn't go well for him. CM Punk wrote it, with Dalibor Talijac and Erick Arciniega on art duties, and Travis Lanham lettering. Of the three of these I tried, I think this one did the best at just writing a done-in-one story. Kept it accessible without too much backstory, brought in a fun, disposable villain. I feel Arciniega's colors muddied the artwork, but maybe Talijac needs someone else to ink him, because the linework wasn't as strong as in other work of his I have. Still, I'd be interested to see more of this.

Ms. Marvel #14-25: Another busy year for Kamala. G. Willow Wilson wrote the book all year, and Ian Herring's coloring kept it having a consistent feel despite the 5 different pencilers the book used this year. Joe Caramagna lettered it all year. Takeshi Miyazawa drew the battle between Kamala and a computer virus learning sentience from humans on the Internet. Francesco Gaston drew a one-off issue checking in with Bruno in Wakanda. Marco Failla drew the return of HYDRA to Jersey City. Diego Olortegui drew the story about Kamala and her acquaintance from Karachi the Red Dagger trying to slow down a runaway train. And finally, Nico Leon drew the most recent issue, where Kamala's friends are trying to protect the city in Ms. Marvel's absence.

High Point: I know the book gets artists who are mostly within the same general range of styles, but I think a lot of credit has to go to Ian Herring for keeping the feel of the book consistent with his color work. I know I said that in the previous paragraph, but it was worth repeating. Of the artists, I like Miyazawa and Olortegui the best. Miyazawa adds such interesting background details, and Olortegui is pretty great at body language and expressions. Mike and Zoe trying to be Ms. Marvel has been funny so far. That HYDRA twerp Lockdown being arrested was gratifying.

Low Point: The fact they just let Josh walk away after his involvement with HYDRA's attempt to subvert democracy in Jersey City. It isn't as though he snuck out the back. The last we see of him he's standing in the middle of the street watching Kamala walk away. He's right there, friggin' arrest him!

Nova #2-4: Well, Jeff Loveness and Ramon Perez, with clutch superstar Ian Herring on colors and Albert Deschesne handling lettering, brought Richard Rider back. So that was something. He and Sam shared the book, fought Death's Head at one point, went on separate dates.

High Point: Perez' artwork was excellent, and Herring got to go different places with the colors than he normally does on Ms. Marvel. A lot of neon purples and reds. Cosmo was involved in the fight with Death's Head in issue 3. Cosmo's always good.

Low Point: I just don't really care about Sam. That part where Sam's teammates kind of blew off Rich being a New Warrior hurt. They're calling themselves the friggin' Champions, they don't get to look down their noses at anybody else's team affiliation! And Rich was an Avenger, for like five minutes! Ask Ed Brubaker, he did it!

Patsy Walker, aka Hellcat #14-17: Geez, feels like eons since this book ended. The Black Cat got her hands on a magic claw that put people under her control and rather than grab, I dunno, Thor or a Hulk, she grabbed some of Patsy's friends. That didn't end well for her, but Ian had the chance to get some closure with his abusive ex-girlfriend. Patsy had a strange magic cold where he sneezes made random things happen. And then she got a big advance check for a book and took her friends shopping. So Kate Leth, Brittney L. Williams, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Clayton Cowles at least got to give Patsy a happy send off.

High Point: I remain surprised by how well the addition of vampire, ex-mutant, infant son-having Jubilee to the cast went. She rolls with Patsy's craziness so well (it's better than dealing with Logan and his moods), and Williams drawing her mist form as a little pink cloud with pink sunglasses is adorable. The back and forth between Ian and Patsy is entertaining. Hellstrom banishing Hedy to Hell, but then chastising himself for losing control again. So dramatic.

Low Point: The Black Cat arc was a low point. The story didn't make a heck of a lot of sense, even if I'm willing to roll with the Black Cat being flat out evil. Which I'm not.

Power Pack #63: The last of these Legacy I bought. Devin Grayson opted to have Katie relate an old adventure to her teacher like she was telling a story. It mostly focuses on Katie's relationship with Alex, who is off with Reed Richards, wherever they are, and basically ignores half the team. Not necessarily bad for a one-off story, but if you're trying to sell folks on wanting to see more, kind of a curious approach. But that's as much to do with the overall idea of these things as anything else. Marika Cresta and Chris O'Halloran handled the art duties, and Joe Caramagna lettered it.

Ragman #1: Ray Fawkes, Inaki Miranda, Eve de la Cruz, and Josh Reed were the creative team for this updating of Ragman's origin, where he looks a bit more like a mummy, or like he's made out of vines, than the patchwork costume he typically has. And Rory is a soldier dealing with PTSD after things went bad in some attempt at tomb-robbing. I didn't care for the redesign on the outfit. I guess it fits with a more horror vibe, but it's kind of dull. And the first issue didn't really do enough for me to develop any interest in what was happening.

Real Science Adventures #1-3: Even though I hadn't found the anthology format of these Real Science Adventures stores to work for me, I figured I would try again. There were two stories running. One was about the Flying She-Devils trying to swipe a flying boat from a rival crew to enable them to keep their base. The other was about Agent Sparrow infiltrating some Nazi super-weapon to destroy it. Brian Clevinger, Anthony Clark, and Jeff Powell worked on both stories, with Lo Baker as artist on the She-Devils story, and Wook Jin Clark on the Sparrow story. I couldn't really get into either story, so I bailed halfway through.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

2017 Comics In Review - Part 2

My total number of new comics purchased in 2017 was 117, which is down three from last year, and seven from 2015. 72 of those comics were from Marvel, or 61.5%, roughly. So Marvel's total dropped by one for the second consecutive year, but its percentage actually went up (59.7% in 2015, 60.8% in 2016), because the total pie is shrinking faster. Cue Marvel execs high-fiving. "We're getting more!" But it's of a smaller pie. "But it's more of it!"

DC wound up with a total of 15 books, or around 12.8%. Which is up slightly from last year's 11 books and 9.2%. And if DC and Marvel both managed to increase their shares slightly, then yeah, all the other publishers totaled up a little less. 30 books this year, around 25.6%, down from 36 books and 30% in 2016. Unlike 2016, when IDW outpaced DC all by itself, no single tertiary publisher dominated. IDW, Boom, and Image each had 7, Dark Horse had 4, NEC and Joe Books had 2 a piece, and Scout Comics had 1. If the first three months of solicitations are anything to go by, Marvel's going to take a step back in 2018, and the smaller publishers may leap forward. Stat stuff is over, you can wake up now.

Deadpool #24, 25, 36, 287-291: I'm not wasting my time with the change in title. It's all Deadpool. Gerry Duggan is still writing the book. Matteo Lolli and Christian Dalla Vecchia illustrated a couple of issues, one with Ruth Redmond as colorist, the other with Guru eFx. Scott Koblish handled all the others, with Nick Filardi on colors. Joe Sabino's the letterer. Wade failed to finish Madcap, got himself in debt to Stryfe, and killed a Cable. There was also a stretch of seven months where I wasn't buying the book because it was busy crossing over with other titles and tying in to Secret Empire. Ain't nobody got time for that.

High Point: Well, when Wade screws things up, he does so spectacularly, no bones about it. Even if I was not exactly satisfied with the recent "Cable Dies" arc (more on that below), I enjoyed the moments where Wade is still and quiet. Those are unusual for him, and Koblish and Filardi did a great job showing the fatigue, the weariness in him. He's lost it all before, but it was never as much to lose as it was this time, and that's getting to him. And they sell it.

Low Point: That said, the "Cable Dies" arc was a disappointment. Complaints about pacing and stories feeling overly padded out aren't new, but still annoying. But having Cable hate Deadpool, and openly state he never has and never will trust him took some punch out of the conflict. You have Cable as the guy who still believes in Wade, maybe the last one who does, then I don't want Wade to kill him. You make Cable some grumpy asshole old man yelling about what a fuck-up Wade is. . . Even if I agree, the grumpy asshole old man doesn't get to say it. At that point I'm rooting for Wade to kill him, which is probably not the desired reaction. I mean, Duggan already did the story where someone makes Wade kill four people Wade doesn't care about.

Demon - Hell is Earth #1, 2: Jason Blood was being plagued by dreams that bring him to Death Valley. Then an eldritch nuke hits and unleashes a piece of Hell. And now Blood is a ghost haunting Etrigan while they try to figure out what's happening. Or Etrigan can just kill everyone. Andrew Constant, Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessey, Chris Sotomayor, and Tom Napolitano have been the creative team so far. I think I'm mostly here to watch Blood and Etrigan play off each other, and watch Brad Walker draw hellscapes. The stuff about the mysterious kid doesn't intrigue me much yet.

Empowered and Sistah Spooky's High School Hell #1: Well, I just reviewed this last week, but Adam Warren, Carla Speed McNeil, and Jenn Manley Lee have the demon who gave Spooky her powers out for revenge, and Emp got dragged along into Hell with her. I expect McNeil will make it all look very disturbing. Those giant, partially dissected frogs were a good start.

Empowered - Soldier of Love #1-3: Adam Warren, Karla Diaz, and Nate Piekos set an embittered one of those "magical girls" to Emp's city looking to destroy love there once and for all. Because she figures everyone will be so much better off without that sappy delusion clouding their judgment. It's all a bunch of crap anyway, right?

High Point: Diaz' design for the "Soldato del Amor" was pretty great. The combination of the frilly skirt with the beret and the e-cig. Plus, magical talking pangolin companion. Diaz' art gave her a lot of personality, most of it ugly. She draws an excellent smug grin. By partway through the third issue, you really want anyone to show up and punch the Soldato right in the chops.

Low Point: I don't have one for this. It happens sometimes. I'm just such a happy and positive person! The previous sentence is a lie.

Giant Days #29-33: The continuing adventures of three friends in college. These five issues mostly revolved around Esther and Susan hating Daisy's girlfriend, and the three of them trying to decide on housing arrangements for the coming year. John Allison, Max Sarin, Liz Fleming, Whitney Cogar, and Jim Campbell are on the creative team for each issue. Irene Flores handled some of the inking chores in #31, and Kieran Quigley did some of the color work along with Cogar on that issue as well.

High Point: I love the pacing. You can never be sure when a plot thread is going to come to a head, or what's going to result from it. There's always something happening, and the book is alternately touching and hilarious. The Sarin/Fleming/Cogar are team sells it. The knack for being able to do silly and over-the-top when that's what's called for (mostly with Esther, because she's very dramatic, and there's a panel where she explains what she did to rivals in school that I love), or small things with body language and expressions that say a lot. I'm continually impressed by the book. For a specific scene, the sequence in the pub that begins when Daisy starts hustling pool to pay the electric bill, and ends with Emilia stopping her brother from pummeling McGraw and Ed.

Low Point: Nothing. Was the last lie actually a truth? Ha. No.

Great Lakes Avengers #4-7: For about five minutes, the GLA owned the Avengers' name somehow or the other, and set up shop in Detroit, where they fought a crooked politician. Until their newest member mauled him. Then Bertha got roped in by some creepy doctor who wanted to duplicate her power and went on a rampage, but they stopped him. Then Deadpool showed up to tell them they were canceled. You have the year he's had, you take your jollies where you can. Zac Gorman wrote all the issues, and Tamra Bonvillain colored them, Wil Robson drew most of them, except issue 4, which was drawn by Jacob Chabot.

High Point: The page where their newest member decides the evil councilman needs to die looked good. Chabot and Bonvillain captured the feel of one of the old horror comics (kind of important since the team member was a werewolf). I liked Doorman's issues with having been on a different plane so long he can't remember basic things like his age or what powers he has. There was something there, in the different perspective he has from the rest of the team.

Low Point: I couldn't get into Robson's art. Characters' facial expressions were over the top all the time. Comically demented or angry, even at times when they weren't supposed to be. Wasn't that into the evil doctor storyline, so issues 5 and 6 were mostly a drag. It was one of those books I was buying because there was potential for them to do something I'd really enjoy, but there was no guarantee they'd ever actually do it.

Hulk #9: Mariko Tamaki, Julian Lopez and Francesco Gaston, Matt Milla, and Cory Petit worked on this issue. I bought it because Jennifer Walters was supposed to interact with Patsy Walker for the first time since Bendis put Jen in a coma for Civil War II. Given that Jennifer has been going through some stuff in this book, it seemed odd her friend wouldn't be trying to help. They talked on the phone for about two pages. Calvin's a sucker, sing along now.

Iron Fist #1, 2, 5: The book started with Danny having no connection to the old Iron Fist chi, and trying to rekindle it with a tournament. That didn't work for me, but I came back a couple of issues later when he was supposed to team up with Shang-Chi. That didn't take either. I can't get into Ed Brisson's take on Danny Rand, where he's kind of a pitiful fight junkie. Mike Perkins did some good stuff in some of the fight scenes, overall his art isn't to my taste. Andy Troy's colors all appear washed out and muddied, even when it's a bright daytime scene. Just didn't work for me.

Day 2 done. Tomorrow, there's one series that made it through the whole year, plus a bunch of stuff I dropped after a couple issues, and a couple of one-shots.