Saturday, February 18, 2006

Sugar! Spice! And everything kickass!

Is it just my personal tastes, the random nature of the universe, or some hidden publishing plan that all the fun comic books I bought this week starred female heroes? Maybe it's just something in the air...but when four out of four books I pick up star girls, that's a trend I had to feature in my weekly reviews. So in addition to how fun they are, I'm gonna rate them on how much they appeal to girls by bringing in a guest girl reviewer: my kid sister Marshall will add her comments, too!

She-Hulk #5SHE-HULK #5: This comic is fun...sorta. First off, let's get this out of the way: please someone stop Greg Horn! Why is that leering horse on the cover of this fun comic book?!?! Why on all his covers does She-Hulk look so reflecty and shiny that she actually looks greasy!?!? Please, someone tell me why this is the best artwork for She-Hulk? Ahem. I know that is just beating a dead horse, but it had to be said. Okay, but after you rip off and toss away open the cover, it's the usual pretty-fun Shulkie adventure. I'm a little stuffed bull who's a sucker for time-travel stories, and this one covers an unusual and interesting aspect of time travel: stranding the Two-Gun Kid, a hero from the age of cowboys, smack-dab in the Marvel Universe's twenty-first century. I enjoyed Two-Gun Kid's confusion in the modern world (he's not as lost as you might think: remember, he's been to our times before to help the Avengers), and there's some good fish-out-of-water stories to be told here. My only problem with this storyline is that action-wise, really nothing happens in this issue: a few very short fight scenes without significance, but most of the issue is Two-Gun Kid adjusting to his new life and Awesome Andy being a bit jealous. Don't get me wrong: nothin' wrong with characterization and plot development...but this seems like just another issue in the current series that has been mostly that rather than all-out action. Dan Slott does a great job writing characters rather than just action--it's just that I wish there was a little more of the action along with his great characterization. I will admit that Dan Slott has some of the best "small concepts" in comics today. By "small concepts" I mean a throwaway character or line that just sparkles off the page even tho' it isn't a vital part of the plot. Or even the Marvel Universe. Case in point: The Best Line of the Week: "Nobody understands. I got sent forward in time two whole weeks! Now I'm all backed up at work, and I missed the last two episodes of Lost. And 24. And Desperate Housewives..." (And kudos for the kicker, a totally-adjusted medieval maiden yakking on her cell phone: "Aye, I'm still in group. No, nothing of great import. Just some fool who can't work a Tivo...") But I still wanna see more action, please. After all, when you've got a big green powerhouse as your star, I want more than just talking heads on most pages. Maybe this series is getting revved up for some serious blockbusting and in-your-face action-adventure. I know Mister Slott can do it; he's doing it over in The Thing.

And Marshall says: I liked this comic a lot! She-Hulk is a big pretty smashy green lady. I wish I was big and green. I would not smash things, though. I would be very careful. Yay for She-Hulk! She is a heroine I can really look up to. Cos she's so tall.

Runaways #13RUNAWAYS #13: This comic is fun. Here's something rare: a done-in-one solo story that doesn't star Wolverine. My favorite team comic is made even better by the detail and personality Mister Brian K. Vaughan has given each of the Runaways, especially the youngest member of the team, Molly Hayes. (Altho' did you notice they stopped putting the ages of the characters on the top of the first page each month?) Month after month Runaways is Marvel's most accessible comic to new readers (even when they put Marvel Universe characters in it), and while this issue isn't specifically an ideal jumping-on point, you don't need to know anything about the team or the characters before you dive into this issue, partly because of the always-excellent recap on page one, but mostly because Vaughan has mastered that delicate thin line between Chris Claremont-over-explanation of characters and being dropped into a storyline without knowing what's going on. This one features Molly falling under the control of a modern-day Fagin and helping out her fellow pickpockets to break his control over them. It's funny and sad and action-filled and has a great turn-around against the villain that's not only totally believable but utterly satisfying. Great stuff. Everybody should be reading this book. Including my sister Marshall, who says: This had a sad ending and I was so sorry for Molly when this ended! Poor Molly. She's a great heroine and came up with a great plan to beat the bad guy. I bet I could not have thought up such a great plan. Yay Molly! I'm glad she is not one of the mutants who went away after the end of that House of Pancakes thing.

Dead Girl #2X-STATIX PRESENTS DEAD GIRL #2: This comic is fun. Dr. Strange goes shopping at Pathmart to get stuff to make a new body for Dead Girl. How could that not be fun?!? There's a lot more Dead Girl in this issue than there was in the last one, but either way, this is shaping up to be my favorite miniseries so far this year for all its wonderful quirky touches: Doc Strange musing about the improbability of Colossus returning from the dead, Ant Man obsessed with fighting carpet mites, Sue Richards trying to headhunt Wong away from Strange's employ, and my favorite, Gwen Stacy, Moira MacTaggart, and Mockingbird in an afterlife book club! (I sure like this Gwen better than the one in J. Michael Straczynski's recent Spider-Man flashbacks!) As for the Pitiful One, I'm guessing that Peter Milligan has done his homework and he's really some forgotten dead FF villain, rather than Mr. Milligan just making up the character's history. (Either way, I want to be surprised and not know who he is until the story tells us, so please don't email me and tell me that the Pitiful One is Willie Lumpkin or something! Do you see me knocking on your door telling you who Luke Skywalker's father is? Or who shot Mister Burns? Or what the Rambaldi Device does? No, you do not!) All the care and attention given to Marvel history--yet the ability to twist it, tweak it, and have fun with it, is what makes DEAD GIRL #2 the most fun comic of the week!. Marshall says: Dead Girl is icky! She is funny but I do not think I would want to be her friend. (I would not mind being Gwen Stacy's friend though...she looks like she is a totally groovy chick!) And the dead bad guys are kinda scary. Oh no! Look out, Wong! Look out! Oh! Oh! You can keep this comic, Bully! And after I saw what Dead Girl's new body was made of, I am really glad it is not scratch-and-sniff!

Hi Hi Puffy Amiyumi #1HI HI PUFFY AMIYUMI #1: This comic is fun. One of my 2006 New Year's Resolutions (along with not eating quite so many cookies!) is to Try Each Week to Pick Up One New Comic Title I Haven't Been Reading. So when I saw Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi #1 winking at me from the comics shelf, I had to grab it and see if it was as fun as it looked! The comic consists of three short comics stories based on the hyperactive but very fun Cartoon Network TV Show. I like Puffy AmiYumi's music a lot, but I'm not really a big fan of their cartoon (the girls sound too westernized for me to believe they are the real Puffy!). I don't have that problem with the comic book (make up your own voices, Puffy purists!) so I enjoyed this a lot. It was a nice refreshing change from a lot of superhero angst this week and the cartooning style is bright and clear and vibrant. I can easily see this being a great comic book to give to a girl who has never read them before. This is only a three-issue limited series but it's so well done I hope that it develops into a regular series, especially since The Powerpuff Girls series at DC Kids just ended. What do you think, Marshall? Oh oh oh! Oh! This is the best comic book in the universe! There are great fun stories in here and one of them is 'bout a magic guitar and I have always wanted a magic guitar! Yumi and Ami look like they have the most amazing adventures! This book is so kawaii (cute) and kakkoi (cool) and it is even educational cos it teaches me some Japanese words at the end of every story as a omake (bonus!) Arigato, Puffy! So, in conclusion, if this was my blog entitled Marshall Says: Yay! Comics About Puffy AmiYumi Are Fun!, this, not that one about the icky stinky dead meat girl, would be the most fun comic of the week! Yay!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Just-Leave us-Alone Gang (or, "Quitters never never quit")

The always-eloquent H over at The Comic Treadmill has strong words for the current run of JLA as this once-mighty flagship of the DC Universe stumbles to a clumsy halt and disintegrates before our eyes prior to the title being rebooted post-Infinite Crisis.

The general theme of H's rant of: what a complete piece of garbage JLA has become after such a strong start. I gotta agree. And it got me thinking: JLA (or, Justice League of America, or Justice League America...take yer pick) has ended three times in the past twenty years. And each time it's ended with a whimper, not a bang. Each JLA series has wrapped up with the deaths of members, the general chaotic falling apart of the team, and especially in this current incarnation, angry accusations being shot back and forth across the bows of the DCU's big guns. In other words, heroes fighting heroes. Heroes blaming heroes. Heroes even hurting heroes.

Enough. I'm as interested as any little stuffed comics fan to see a new twist on the JLA, but why must we be made to hate the series...and even worse, its JLA dies away? Do the creators feel they're producing vibrant, exciting work as they wrap-up storylines in preparation for being cancelled, or are they simply marking time until they can get off the book?

More to the point, why must each JLA series end in a Crisis or cataclysm or general crumbling apart of the team until it's not even worth calling them the Justice League of America anymore? Why do members quit and bicker and fight each other and why oh why do my heroes give up on their team? My mama always taught me that quitters never win, and winners never quit. How can I believe in my heroes if they don't feel the same way?

Here's the kind of reaction I want to see happen to someone saying "The JLA is over; it's not worth it anymore; I give up, I quit!":

JLA #109

The Superman I know wouldn't put up with giving up on the responsibility and dream of the JLA. The Batman I know would find a way to make it work when all around him is crashing down. The Wonder Woman I know would hold together the team with power and heart.

Here's the ending I want to see to a JLA series:

Superman: We did good. But there's so much more to do. We can't let the JLA die.
Batman: Agreed. Our work goes on.
Wonder Woman: Injustice will never stop, my friends. But neither will we. Neither will we.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Magnum Force

Who's the Hawaiian private dick who's a love machine* to all the chicks?


I don't think it's any secret that one of my favorite TV shows of all time is Magnum, P.I. starring Tom Selleck. It ran for eight seasons on CBS in the 1980s, was a solid mix of drama and comedy, and had one of the greatest supporting casts of an action-detective show. What's that got to do with comics, you ask? (Go ahead, ask!) I've always said that Magnum would have made a great comic book. In the late seventies and early eighties Marvel was putting out some different TV-to-comic adaptations (Man from Atlantis, The A-Team, Battlestar Galactica, Sledge Hammer). But no Magnum.

Imagine my surprise...go ahead, imagine it!...when on my recent trip to London, I found a couple Magnum, P.I. hardcover annuals in a used book store! Whodathunkit? I picked up Magnum Annual 1982 and 1983. They're pretty similar to most British comics annuals I've oversized hardcover anthology of comics, prose stories, articles, photos and fun 'n' games activities. (Much to my surprise, annuals are still a big deal in the UK at Christmastime. They had a huge stack of 2006 annuals at Waterstones: Justice League, Batman, X-Men, Barbie, plus perennial British favorites like Beano, The Dandy, and British football clubs. If you want to save a little money, wait until after Christmastime to pick 'em up: Waterstones marked 'em down to 99p on Boxing Day! You can't say fairer than that, as the Brits say!)

Anyway, let's talk about Magnum Annual 1982:

Ther's no artist credits listed in this annual, but there's two types of artwork (plus a handful of photographs) painted photorealistic art to illustrated the endpapers and text stories:

and more traditional comics-style panel art:

I'm not certain at all who's doing either style, but that comic art is vaguely familiar in that British annual style: solid dynamic panel borders illustrate action and drama. Kind of reminds me of Frank Bellamy. Both styles are pretty vibrant, energetic and capture Tom Selleck's likeness well, but it's clear the artists were all heavily using using photo references for these; lots of the artwork corresponds to Magnum publicity photos and stills from early in the series. (Told you I was a Magnum fan!) F'rinstance, note how both the examples above seem to derive from the same posed shot, probably a publicity photo!

The annual starts out with a prose story entitled "Funky Freddie's Payoff" whose opening sentences proves they pretty much knew the attraction of Tom Selleck to a large part of his audience:

Following a nonfiction article on Hawaii is a one-pager called "Magnum's Farce" which supposedly prints some of the wittiest exchanges between Magnum and major-domo Jonathan Higgins. But I've gotta figger the editors of the annual were either making these up (I certainly don't remember any of them from the TV series!), or, at the very least, picked some really horribly unfunny ones, thus missing the point of one of Magnum's top attractions, its humor:

The eight-page comics story "Daddy's Little Girl" follows. It's not bad: authentic Magnum action and first-person narration with a kinda-funny wrap-up that shows whoever wrote it knew the show. But the artist doesn't seem to realize he's drawing American, not English, cars--note the position of the steering wheel:

And really I must object to this bit of uncalled-for racism against bulls!:

A two-page article on the history of Ferrari cars like Magnum's follows (featuring a painted illustration of Enzo Ferrari that makes him look like a pudgy Steve Martin) and another prose story called "The Debt" faces Magnum off against a villain who eliminates the need for his own arrest and trial by [SPOILER WARNING!] running into a spinner airplane propeller. Next, two pages of surfing history, two pages of Magnum photo pin-ups, then another comics story "The Burning Stops." No, it's not an ad for Preparation H (hee hee!). Magnum's in a tight spot when the story opens, being held hostage by either a British criminal (or a British writer who doesn't know we say "gas" in America):

This story features quite possibly the greatest plot twist in the history of comics:

Yes, years before the movie Snakes on a Plane, T.C. faces off against "drug-crazed" snakes on a helicopter! I hope whoever wrote this story sues the pants off Samuel L. "Get these damn snakes off my plane" Jackson! (And don't worry, Roger E. Mosley fans: T.C. [SPOILER WARNING] survives the snakes and Magnum survives the guy with the, petrol can.)

A prose story called "The Mystery on the 13th Floor" follows. Contrary to the title, it's not a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys mystery. But the best is yet to come next with...

My favorite clue? 22 Across: Magnum is one. Since the phrase "Hawaiian private dick who's a love machine* to all the chicks" did not fit in the slot, I'm guessing the answer is "PI." More comics fun follows with the story "Harry Blong's Harvest." Reading this made me think that the writers possibly only had access to the first script of the TV show, "Don't Eat the Snow in Hawaii," to write these stories. I've watched the Magnum, P.I.: The Complete First Season DVD collection recently and lots of the elements from the pilot episode show up in this and the next comics story: Magnum being chased by Zeus and Apollo, Higgins's dogs (although it's misspelled as "Appollo" here), Rick in his white tuxedo, Higgins toasting his old regiment: all of these are straight from the pilot. The steering wheel's still on the right-hand side of the Ferrari in this one, too! Some nice Modesty Blaise-style art in this one, though:

An illustrated article on helicopters used in the Vietnam War is next up, followed by a prose story called "Death Drive." And, like everything from the early 1980s, it guest-stars Michael Caine:

One more two-page nonfiction feature (this one on stats of Magnum's Ferrari's engine. Gosh, you learn a lot with these things!) and the annual wraps up with one last comics story entitled "The Death of a Drunken Woman." Not to be outdone by the Michael Caine appearance earlier, this one guest-stars noted comics writer Brian Michael Bendis.

Quite a feat, as Bendis was only 15 in 1982 and would not become big until decades later.

In short, I've poked a lot of fun at it, but Magnum, P.I. Annual 1982 is a fun comic. Britishcisms aside, it captures the spirit of Thomas Magnum's adventures pretty well and is chock-full of fun comics and features. This has some great art, exciting stories, and was a great value at £2.50. I hear there's rumors of a Magnum movie starring George Clooney, and that's just wrong. Not that I don't wanna see a Magnum movie: I really do. But there's only one Thomas Magnum, and that's Tom Selleck.

Go get 'em, big guy! See ya on the beach!

*I am not allowed to use the "S" word on my website, I think.