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Month: August, 2012

The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1

The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom #1

Writer: Mark Waid, Artist: Chris Samnee

In my relatively short time reading comics, Mark Waid’s Daredevil has been the most consistent, most continuously enjoyable series I read. Recently, his work with Chris Samnee on the series has been excellent, so when I saw that they would be working on an IDW Rocketeer mini, I knew it would be a good time. I vaguely remember The Rocketeer movie from when I was a kid, but I know very little about the character; it’s a classic-throwback 30s and 40s adventure story (I remember it being dusty!) about a dude with a rocket backpack.

The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom doesn’t require much more background than that. We are swiftly introduced to our main characters and everyone’s relationship is quickly and clearly established. A lot of credit for this goes to Samnee; he does fantastic character work and his facial expressions are great. They are a little bit cartoony, but they are also full of life. His art, combined with the fast moving script, allows us to take in a ton of information in this single issue. He’s a perfect fit for this throwback, pulpy story. The flying, rocketeer stuff is classic, and his conversations scenes are lively.

Waid is a great match for this character. While the setting could easily lend itself to something a little saccharine, he adds the needed bite. The opening test-flight-gone-wrong sequence is driven by the unwanted, aggressive advances of Mr. Feeney on pilot and mechanic Sally. When she kicks him off of her, he falls into the emergency door and sends a safety parachute fluttering into the propeller. We are also introduced to the mini’s baddies: The Master, his hoods, a brain washed lunatic, and a mysterious, deadly monster (the “cargo of doom”, presumably). The lunatic starts spazzing out when he realizes they are docking in Los Angeles and screams out “SOCORDDDD!” (the Rocketeers secret identity). We also get a beautifully illustrated and creepily off-putting final page that sets the stage for the next three issues.

Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable first issue to what should be a breezy, fun, and excellently illustrated mini. Between this and Godzilla: the Half-Century War, I’m really impressed with IDW. Great production, interesting creative teams. Based on these, I might have to dig into Locke & Key and see if that series is as good as people say it is.

Grade: B+

New Semester

Since my Metro class ended on Wednesday, it has been a non-stop whirlwind. More precisely, it feels like it has been a whirlwind. Any person with a normal job would scoff at me, but hey, I can’t help how I feel! I graded final papers, submitted grades, got my UNO materials, planned the whole semester, bought a bike, and started the new semester. I’m thankful that MCC doesn’t start again until after Labor day; it gives me a little time to catch up and hopefully plan out what is going to be an insane quarter. As a result of all this, I haven’ really had time to write anything.

I’m very excited about starting at UNO. It feels really good to be back on a university campus. I love teaching at Metro, but a university is just different. Although getting all the technical things straightened out has been a nightmare, the class itself should be good. University students are just a different breed than community college students. They’ve got more energy, more enthusiasm, less world weariness. They are looking for entirely different things out of their courses. Most community college students are returning to school or going to school for the first time after a long break after high-school. As a result, there is always a hint of trepidation, fear, and unknowing. I like that. It makes me approach the classes differently. My goal there is to build confidence and skills that will be useful as the progress. But at a place like UNO, you are dealing, for the most part, with what I like to call professional students. The more technical aspects of the course are less important (formatting, using a computer) and you can move more quickly to the good stuff: ideas, theories, style.

The Premier League also began last weekend with Arsenal drawing 0-0 with Sunderland. Naturally, the ignorant footy pundits came out blasting Wenger for (again) selling off his best players, but both of those players started in last season’s opener against Newcastle that also ended 0-0. We heard the same complaints after that game as we did this one: Arsenal wouldn’t be able to cope without Fabregas and Nasri.

Once this team has time to settle, I have no doubts that they will be significantly better than they were last season. Yes, losing RVP is a devastating hit; but Wenger has lessened that blow through a more proactive and crude off-season. While we still have no idea how Podolski or Giroud will play out, I think their potential is undeniable. People forget it took RVP 7 years to really come good. More importantly, I think the way we have livened up our attacking options and the moves still pending (when will this Sahin deal go through!) makes this a much more threatening team.

First, Santi Cazorla is an undeniable upgrade. Last year, we really struggled to replace Fabregas. While Arteta is a wonderful player, he doesn’t really provide the daring creativity that Fabregas did. Cesc had a uncanny ability to see the pass that no one else saw and split defenses wide open (which makes the way he’s been used at Barcelona so disappointing). Wilshire also has the skillset, but his injury meant we couldn’t see it. Arteta just doesn’t have that daring in his style; most of his passes are fairly safe and short, which establishes our tempo but doesn’t directly create openings. That left Song to fill the creative gap, which he did well enough, but that often forced him out of position in the back. I think Cazorla allows Arteta to play the role he’s comfortable in while also allowing whoever plays DM (Diaby in the opener, possibly Coquelin as we move forward) to stay further back.

I’m also excited to see Wenger employ Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with more frequency. For me, he is our most exciting player and the team really lifts when he’s on the pitch. His performances at the Euros makes it difficult to keep him off the pitch if he’s healthy. If the Sahin deal goes through, I think that opens the door for Walcott to leave next summer which is no real loss in my mind. He was beyond terrible on Saturday. Regardless, with the Sahin move, we’ve got as exciting an attacking midfield as is in the league. With the chances they should be creating, I think Podolski and Giroud will do well to fill the gap left by the Traitor. Between those four new options, I think his 30 goals will be picked up easy enough.

Overall, I think we should be a comfortable top 4 team, fighting with Chelsea for third. I’d like to see us use the depth we are creating in the midfield to make a run in one of the cups. It would be so nice to win some silverware and shut the haters up. Wenger was held to the fire with Fabregas, Nasri, and RVP, but he deserves some recognition for what he has done with the resources available to him. If any other manager was at Arsenal, we would have slipped out of the Champion’s League long ago. I’ll take the way we’ve handled our business any day over the oil money billions used to prop up City, Chelski, or PSG.

Up the Arsenal!

Mad Men “Shoot”

S01E09 “Shoot”
Writers: Chris Provenzano and Matthew Weiner, Director: Paul Feig

I love Mad Men for the way it plays on its past. Sometimes it’s overtly, sometimes it’s metaphorically, sometimes it’s just barely below the surface. In the Season 5 finale, Don helps Megan land a trite commercial role, even though it seems to signal the end of his interest in her. But it isn’t the first time Don has used his connections to help out his wife. Here, Don and Betty run into Jim Hobbart from McCann-Erickson, an upper tier agency. While Don and Hobbart’s wife get drinks, Hobbart discusses a modelling possibility with Betty. For us, its clear that he is trying to get leverage on Don to leave Sterling-Cooper, but for Betty it plays on the anxieties and fears that have been building since the jump. She’s bored and unhappy. After talking with Don, she decides to go for it.

While Don seems supportive, the only real reason he’s allowing Betty to do it is so that he can turn McCann’s courting into a sweeter deal with Sterling Cooper (of course Don wouldn’t want to leave. His whole ethos is about upward mobility. He has more freedom at Sterling-Coop and he has the chance to take it to the top on its own). So when Betty gets overly dressed up to go to her audition, we feel true sadness for her. She thinks she’s finally making a choice for herself, but she’s not in control at all. Don says no to McCann and gets the raise (and no contract) he wants from Sterling-Cooper, but Betty gets dropped from the ad campaign. What follows is a beautiful, tragic scene in which Betty makes Don dinner (which she hasn’t been able to do while working) and tells him that she decided to stop working. She missed the kids and being able to make dinner for the family. Don simply smiles and says ok.

Mad Men doesn’t play narrative tricks, it doesn’t keep secrets, and it doesn’t “twist.” Instead, it plays relationships in intense, interesting ways that often lead to these little startling moments. The whole scene is carried in the way Don responds to Betty here. While he showers her with compliments about what a great mother he is, you can also sense the satisfaction he has in returning her to her place, even if he doesn’t see it expressly in these terms. For her part, Betty is just putting on a nice face. The episode ends with her going into the front yard and shooting a gun at the neighbor’s doves while a cigarette hangs out her mouth. It’s a rare moment of surrealism for the show, but it rules. David Lynch couldn’t have played it out more perfectly.

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New Comics 8/8

It’s been a helluva week, and not in a bad way. Just an exhausting one. But all that’s probably for another post. For today, comics! It was a light week, but heavy in quality. I’m going to focus on two books, both written and drawn by artists.

Godzilla: The Half-Century War #1 (Writer and Artist: James Stokoe)
Punk Rock Jesus #2 (Writer and Artist: Sean Murphy)

Both Sean Murphy and James Stokoe take sole control of their books this week, to varying degrees of success.

In Godzilla: The Half-Century War #1, Stokoe begins his five-issue mini for IDW. I was introduced to Stokoe’s work through his friendship with Brandon Graham, and his Orc Stain is just a ridiculously awesome blast of color and visual insanity. I wouldn’t be buying Godzilla if I wasn’t sure the art was going to kill. And it does. Stokoe’s hyper-detailed drawing and psychedlic coloring make this a beautiful thing to look at. The story follows Japanese Self Defense recruit Ota Murakami as he, and the world, encounter Godzilla for the first time. Through some quick thinking, adrenaline induced bravado, and sheer luck, he saves a handful of civilians and gets hand picked to join the Anti Megalosaurus Force (A.M.F.), the exploits of which presumably make up the remaining four issues.

While the book is visually awesome, it certainly lacks in terms of story and dialogue. To Stokoe’s credit, I’m not sure there is a lot of depth you can add to a Godzilla story. It’s a giant monster destroying cities. But he doesn’t really do much to help himself out either. Ota is generic character who doesn’t engage the reader. The story seems like a trivial necessity to put Godzilla into different places so Stokoe can draw the shit out of the destruction. And I’m okay with that. I love his art so much, I frankly don’t even need words. Do I wish there was more happening on the content level? Yes. With four issues left, there is certainly time for that to happen. If Stokoe only manages to keep doing what he’s doing, I’ll be alright with that too.

Sean Murphy’s Punk Rock Jesus, in contrast, is a writer’s work. The story doesn’t have an immediate visual hook like Godzilla, so Murphy is forced to engage us on the content level. The fact that he is able to make even the most basic scene look stunning is an added benefit.

This is a packed issue. Nearly every page gives us a new plot development, new detail about the dystopic world of 2020, or a revelation about one of the characters. As I said in my review of issue 1, this story just should not work. It sounds like something that was dreamt up by a stoned high schooler, but Murphy constantly manages to take it into new and unexpected places. This issue, in particular, works to reconcile the two seemingly disparate stories from #1: the cloning of Jesus and all that is happening at J2, and the dark, IRA backstory of Thomas. After he helps Gwen escape the island, she asks him if he believes that Chris is really the Second Coming. He replies, “Yes.” “And that’s why you do this job, isn’t it? It’s not about the paycheck.” “I got a lot of sins to make up fer.” Whereas we initially thought that Thomas was just a soulless hired gun, this gives him so much weird, interesting depth in the context of his violent childhood. While the book seems to be set up as a ridiculous critique of organized religion, I think Murphy has a much more interesting twist up his sleeve (especially in light of Slate’s Miracle manipulation).

While this issue is mostly character work, Murphy’s art is so on-point it is ridiculous. I’m frankly pissed that I won’t be able to buy any of the original pieces. He adds so much detail in the normal, conversation scenes that it never feels flat or boring. The backgrounds are so specific, almost blueprint style, that you really get a sense of how totally he conceived this world. And when he does give himself an action scene, he makes it count. Whereas Stokoe’s action scenes are occasionally difficult to follow, especially spatially, Murphy’s storytelling is so smooth and clinical. It’s like watching a perfectly composed and edited film. Each panel leads right into the next in a coherent, logical way.

PRJ is hitting Prophet territory for me. I’ve probably read, re-read, and skimmed these first two issues 10 times each. Just amazing comics.

Grades:
Godzilla: The Half-Century War #1 – B (A for Art, C for Story)
Punk Rock Jesus #2 – A

I also read:
Batman #12 (Writers: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, Artists: Becky Cloonan and Andy Clarke) – B

Hawkeye #1 + Rest of New Comics 8/1

Hawkeye #1 (Writer: Matt Fraction, Artist: David Aja)

Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye debut was getting praise from all over the Internet before release, so I decided to give it a try. I’m much more interested in the “smaller” characters of the Marvel Universe as they tend to stay fairly isolated from the inevitable X-Men/Avengers cross-over disasters. I’ve been rewarded with Daredevil and The Punisher, two of my favorite comics, and I thought Hawkeye might follow suit.

And I’ve read this thing four times now and I just don’t get the praise. Yes, David Aja’s art is fantastic: it’s a beautiful mix of Chris Samnee and Sean Phillips. I don’t think it fits the tone of this book, but it’s great nonetheless. But Matt Fraction’s writing is one of the most annoying things I’ve read in comics. While reviews from CBR, Multiversity, and iFanboy all gush about the issue, they don’t actually talk about the writing itself, and in particular, Fraction’s grating, dialect-abusing dialogue or his random characterization of Clint Barton.

First, Fraction’s Hawkeye is a dick. And not the cocky, sarcastic, lovable, Tony Stark-style dick, but the, “I’m going to kick a wheelchair into traffic” and “I’m going to skip out on paying this taxi driver” style dick. Quite simply, Clint Barton is a douche. Even when he turns it around to save his apartment complex from gentrification at the hands of a stereotypical Russian thug, it only happens after he tries to buy them off and almost gets killed (and more importantly, I have no idea where he got the money to buy it. At the beginning, he was moaning the cost of a $200 wheelchair and couldn’t even pay for his taxi). I know Hawkeye is supposed to be the underdog everyman, but does he have to be a moron too?

Second, Matt Fraction WROTE the comic. As if it wasn’t apparent from his name on the cover, this thing is chock-full of, “Look at how clever I’m being!” dialogue. The horrible Russian thugs (and Hawkeye himself) say “Bro” 36 times. 36. 36 times. 2.57 times per page. People talk in fragments. Verbs and objects dominate sentences; subjects and articles are assumed. Clint says things like, “Dog’ll make it,” “Yo! Hey…,” and “Hey. Sorry. Hey.” One character, after Clint kicks his wheelchair into the street (yes, he really did that, for no goddam reason) says, “That’s a two-hunner dollah wheelchair y’just kicked inta traffic.” People create mouth-defying conjunctions like “s’a”, “y’wanna”, and my personal favorite, “s’just”. Everyone who speaks in this comic is dumber than the person who came before them. It’s so over-the-top that I’m wondering if Fraction was given Hawkeye as punishment and this is his way of fighting back. Or maybe he was stoned watching Jersey Shore and Super Troopers at the same time and he just won a bet.

Whatever it is, and regardless of how awesome David Aja is, I’m out. I wanted to like Hawkeye, but this just wasn’t written for me.

Grade: C-

I did read other stuff this week; actually, there was a ton out. Luckily, I had $10 off at my local shop.

Daredevil #16 (Writer: Mark Waid, Artist: Chris Samnee) – Grade: B

Dial H #4 (Writer: China Miéville, Artist: Mateus Santlolouco) – Grade: B

Earth 2 #4 (Writer: James Robinson, Artist: Nicola Scott) – Grade: B-

Swamp Thing #12 (Writers: Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire, Artist: Marco Rudy + assorted) – Grade: B

Animal Man #12 (Writers: Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder, Artist: Steve Pugh) – Grade: B

Mind MGMT #3 (Writer and Artist: Matt Kindt) – Grade: A

Lizz and I leave for Lollapalooza tomorrow. I’m going to try and take lots of pictures and keep track of our adventure. I’m excited for my first trip to Chicago, Sigur Rós, and At the Drive-In (finally!).

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