Saturday, July 08, 2006

What the Sam Scratch is goin' on here?!? #2

Continuing the new 'ccasional feature here at Comics Oughta Be Fun: second in a series of comic book covers so wacky, so insane, so far out, that they're seemingly inspired by my Grampy Bull's fav'rite saying: "What the Sam Scratch is goin' on here?!?"

Friday, July 07, 2006

Doom is coming.

In one week, true believers!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Reviews: Back in the saddle again

And...we're back.

Hope you all didn't miss me out there too much in blogosphere land, folks. It's been a busy busy month and I've fallen behind on my blogging for a number of reasons. I won't go into all the details, but trust me when I tell you that much to my surprise, AMC Summer MovieCamp is not supposed to be a sleepover camp! I always believe in making a silk pig out of an ear purse, however, so I got to learn a lot about the film and craft of moviemaking, how those big fancy new digital projectors work, and what they really put in that butter-stuff that goes on your popcorn*.

Anyway, I'm home again, and if you missed my Comics Oughta Be Fun! commentary while I was away, never fear for two reasons: there's lots of fun and exciting stuff coming up here in the future, and I'll be transcribing a lot of my hoof-written notes from June and retconning them into the blog. I know that in blog circles post-dating entries is considered being a big cheaty-pants, but I'm a little stuffed bull with a notebook full of ideas and while I wanna save some of them for July and beyond, others (like comics reviews) fit right in with June.

In the meantime, Wednesday Thursday means New Comics Day, so let's take a wander to the old spinner rack and see what's on offer this week, shall we? Shall we?

Franklin Richards #3FANTASTIC FOUR PRESENTS: FRANKLIN RICHARDS: SON OF A GENIUS: SUPER SUMMER SPECTACULAR: This comic is fun! And whew! That's a mouthful of a title. I've gone on record before saying that the Franklin Richards comics by Chris Eliopoulos and Mark Sumerak is among one of the most fun comics Marvel is producing today, and one of the even very fewer suitable for all ages. If you've picked up any of the others in this series, you already know the drill: Franklin gets in trouble misusing one of his dad's fantastic inventions, and it's up to H.E.R.B.I.E. the robotic babysitter to bail him out of it. I tend to think that a book labeled "Super Summer Spectacular' should be double-sized (summers were made for double-sized annuals and anniversary issues, doncha think? The perfect sized books to lie in the grass with a glass of lemonade and read all afternoon). But even though this is a regular-sized comic, it still fits in lotsa fun: four short stories (plus a one-pager) of Franklin's escapades. One of the things I like best about this series is that Franklin never learns...even when an adventure backfires on him and H.E.R.B.I.E. has to save his unstable moleculed bacon, by the next story Franklin is gleefully sneaking into Mister Fantastic's lab again and flipping switches he shouldn't be. I find this Franklin much more interesting that the whiny wet Franklin seen to often in the regular FF book, and the Marvel Universe could do worse than to adopt this persona for that Franklin as well. My usual quibble: the thing that keeps this book from being great instead of merely good fun is the Calvin and Hobbes-like art of every story. I'd be 100% enthusiastic about this series and the fun it brings to a normally dour Marvel Universe if Chris Eliopoulos would develop his own style, one that doesn't ape Bill Watterson.

JLU #23JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED #23: This comic is fun. The TV series may be cancelled (Boo! Hiss!) but you can still get good solid Justice League animated fun every month in the comic book. (Less'n that's been cancelled too...say it ain't so, Johnny DC!) This is actually one of my favorite JLU issues in a few months (the Space Cabbie one still tops it!), pitting the League against the Royal Flush Gang, a villain group that works really well and is really sharply designed in the DC Animated Universe. There's a touch of Rashomon (and a bit of a homage to the classic Batman: The Animated Series episode "P.O.V.") as a police detective interviews onlookers about their experiences of the League/Gang battle. It's a solid DC Universe-style story and avoids the "learn a lesson" ending so many of the JLU issues fall prey to. There's a neat if mild O. Henry-esque twist to the end which I saw coming about 2/3 of the way through the book, but it's the sort of twist that you don't mind figured out and it actually makes you want to read the story again to understand the different point of view it gives you...just like the stories told within the story. Plus, it features Red Tornado speaking The Best Line of the Week: "I do not dance, Superman...but I can certainly twist." Good solid stuff, lotsa fun and consistently better than the last couple years of the regular JLA book.

Simpsons Super Spectacular #3SIMPSONS SUPER SPECTACULAR #3: This comic is fun. Bill Morrison and his crazy gang at Bongo comics get to indulge their inner comic book geeks with the new issue of the Simpsons magazine that spoofs, satirizes, sends-up and, hey, just plain celebrates the goofy joy of comic books as seen through the Simpson (and Radioactive Man) universe. There's three short stories in here and they're all fairly harmless fluff, but they're fun fluff, highlighted by a loving Kirby tribute in a story starring Homer as Galactus, er, Gastritus. (Extra geek and fun points for the fantastic sixties'-style cover and the loving rendition of Kirby Krackle inside. A Lure Lass/Weasel Woman and Stretch Dude/Clobber Girl pair of stories round out this issue, and it's perfect reading for that part of the Venn diagram that includes both Simpsons fans and comics geeks. That's me, you bet.

She-Hulk #552 WEEK 9: This comic is fun...sorta. Speakin' of Kirby, that's an awfully Kirby-esque lookin' monolith guy on the cover of this week's 52, isn't it? Or am I jus' readin' too much into the clues and red herrings this weekly series has been dropping in my little stuffed lap? That's part of the fun of 52...I genuinely have the impression there is a solid plan to this storyline (instead of, say, the writers jus' vampin' it up as they go along), so I'm inclined to pay close attention to details in each issue to see if they make sense later on. (For example: do the "walls of heaven," with "knowledge that belongs to the gods alone," have anything to do with the Source Wall from The New Gods? I guess we'll find out eventually!) This issue, however, gets a slight downgrade from me: it seems geared to suddenly and without warning advance a handful of plots kind of abruptly and without the deliberate pacing of the previous issues: there's a lot of stuff thrown at us here but it all seems very fast and sudden. Plus, I'm still no fan of the John Henry Irons/Natasha rift (it just seems like lazy writing to have them not talk to each other and understand the true nature of what's going on), and a very large segment of the book (11 pages) is devoted to that plot and seems to advance it very little. But there's a nice Montoya/Question piece at the end of the story, plus—SPECULATOR ALERT!: The first costumed appearance of Batwoman! (Seriously, this book is already being sold on eBay as a rare collectible. As Mama Bull used to say, "there's one born every minute. Twice a minute on eBay.") Finally, "The History of the DC Universe" recaps Identity Crisis in three pages. It still seems padded. I'll be back next week, you bet, but I was enjoying the twisty, shadowy, mysterious aspects of 52 and this issue didn't entirely deliver.

Atom #1THE ALL NEW ATOM #1: This comic is fun. Also, it's "all new"! (How long will that remain on the cover and indicia, I wonder?) One of my favorite pieces from last week's advertisement-for-a-buck Brave New World, I definitely was eager to make The Atom my Try Each Week to Pick Up One New Comic Title I Haven't Been Reading book for this week. It was a fun and pleasant read that has a lot of elements I enjoy in a comic book series. I'm no fan of the opinions and political ideas of Mister John Byrne, but he's certainly a solid and dynamic penciler, the leading light regularly working today of what is (surprisingly now) an older but classic school of comic book artists. You can call his art "workmanlike" if you want, but I consider that a compliment: his panels are crisp and clear and easy to read. His faces do not look all alike (check out page six for a wide variety of Asian characters, all distinct in their looks and bearings despite three of them wearing the same outfit.) In fact, I'd go so far to say that Byrne draws some of the best non-super characters in modern superhero comics: the poker game towards the end of the book features a round-up of different and distinctive college faculty members who, a funny walrus mustache or two aside, are all easily identifiable from panel to panel. I'm also a fan of the "legacy hero" aspect this book is setting up with a new hero taking over for the old, apparently with his blessing: it was done best in Starman, of course, but this treatment looks promising. I've also got to commend Gail Simone for a startlingly original and effective gimmick of quotations in panels that reflect and illuminate the dialogue thematically. Clever! It might be overdone in the future, so watch that, but for now it's a fun bit. Throw in Byrne's dandy segment where the new Atom, Dr. Ryan Choi, shrinks down for the first time (bonus points to Byrne for giving ordinary household items rough textures that aren't apparent at "our" size, like the flaking telephone cord), and a mysterious plot that has something to do with dogs taking of the world and enslaving the Justice League? After all that, I'm sure you're saying, "Wow, Bully, this sounds like your favorite new series of the year!" Well...not quite. After all that, I'm not even certain if I'm going to pick up issue #2: mysterious plot aside, there's nothing in this issue that compels me to feel that I must find out what happens next. Aside from the inadvertent shrinking sequence, there's really no true dramatic tension. There's a lot of fun elements in here, yes—but it's missing the ingredient I most wanted in an Atom book: action. Maybe I'll pick up issue #2. Maybe I won't. We'll see.

Battler Britton #1BATTLER BRITTON #1: This comic is fun. On the other hand, even without brightly-spandexed heroes, this new Wildstorm comic by Gather Ennis and Colin Wilson has more action than most of the actual superhero books this week. Ennis revives an action flyer character from the pages of 2000AD—never one of the most popular of the hundreds of stories from that book, but from what I've seen in old back issues I've picked up here and there on trips to London, good solid WWII aviation stories with fantastic artwork. I was a little worried about picking this book up: Ennis's stories, including his war books, are frequently not suitable for all ages (especially sensitive little stuffed bulls), but there's not swearing and no gore in this one, just solid dramatic tension, great action, and some fantastic aviation artwork by Wilson. The initial issue veers slightly into cliché with the cocky and arrogant American fliers needing to be put in their places and taught a lesson by Wing Commander Robert "Battler" Britton, but Ennis gives it a solid dramatic touch that in lesser hands would have veered into two-dimensional characters. This is less intense and shocking that Ennis's excellent no-holds-barred War Stories series, but it's more serious and realistic than, say, Sgt. Fury or other Silver Age war comics. If you're a fan of war history books by authors like Stephen Ambrose or the TV series Band of Brothers, you'll enjoy Battler Britton. I'll definitely be around for issue #2 of this series.

First Family #5FIRST FAMILY #5: This comic is fun. If all continuity implant comics were done with as reverent but light a touch as this series, maybe I wouldn't mind 'em! First Family is slightly more serious look at the Fantastic Four's origin and first weeks. The fun thing about series like this is you can choose to imagine them actually taking place in between the stories of FF #1 and 2 or thereabouts, and the lengthier treatment of the troubles the Four have adjusting to their powers and new life makes for a twist that Stan and Jack didn't cover (nor needed to). Joe Casey has a good handle on the personalities of our heroes, especially Reed, driven to a point of scientific curiosity that gets him and the others into deep trouble. The cliffhanger's no surprise (it's telegraphed with an ersatz and nightmarish FF on the cover—a schtick that's been done before with the U-Foes, but this twist is dark and scary and makes me want to rush for the next issue to find out how it's all gonna end. I definitely subtract a point for the "Seinfeld" reference in here, though. There's no need for it, and for those of us who dislike modern topical references in stories that are supposed to take place simultaneously with those written in the sixties, it's jarring and intrusive. The way I see it, only proper way to deal with the time elongation in Marvel's history is to ignore it. This just drew attention to it.

Secret Six #2SECRET SIX #2: This comic is not fun. Golly! How can that be? I enjoyed those issues I saw of Villains United, and the VU special, and I even picked up and enjoyed the first issue of Secret Six. Wha'happen? I dunno...and that's precisely the problem here. I read #1 a month ago and I'm completely lost. What's going on? Who are these people? What are they doing? I know a comic like this is intended for careful reading, but despite the all-out action you get when you spotlight villains as your protagonists, it just seems like chaos rather than planned. Maybe it'll make more sense in the trade, but what I originally thought was going to be a fun series just made my little stuffed brains hurt. And for goodness sake, Miss Cinnamon, pull your jeans up. No one needs to see that.

Thing #8THE THING #8: This comic is fun. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Ben Grimm totally rocks. He rocks so hard, in fact, that the comics world cannot contain him, because this is the last issue of the very fun and certainly to be missed Thing series. Dan Slott has brought a lot of care and joy to this short-lived series, a celebration not only of my favorite member of the Fantastic Four but also to some of the more outrageous and bombastic elements of the Marvel Universe: there hasn't been, aside from Slott's own She-Hulk, a book that takes so much joy and wonder from the Marvel U. in the past few years as this one. The wrap-up is no exception, with a cast of seemingly thousands attending the Thing's traditional poker party, but it's also a great cap to an eight-issue story arc for our pal Benjy, who has in the course of these issues learned how to be a millionaire both foolishly and responsibly, re-embraced his traditional Jewish past with dignity and grace, paid off some moral debts, and recaptured the heart of the one true love of his life: Alicia Masters. There's some great throwaway jokes and moments in this book, short action segments that are more entertaining than some of the extended multi-issue battles in more "new" Marvel books, and an utterly romantic ending with the suggestion that Ben and Alicia have a very happy and healthy love life. (Best not to think about it too much, I think.) I'll miss this book a lot, but if there's one thing the past forty-five years or so of Marvel Comics have taught us, is that Ben Grimm will always, always come out on top. That's why give THE THING #8 the award of the most fun comic of the week! See ya in Fantastic Four, big guy.

*That ain't butter!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bisy Backson

We'll Bull Right Back!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Top Ten Fictional Postmen (including one Postwoman)

In honor of the one hundred fifty-ninth anniversary of the first United States postage stamps on this date in 1847 (unlike comic books, postage stamps are the only collectible that is always worth face value if they're mint!), let's honor and celebrate those great letter carriers of my favorite place, fiction:

10. Mr. Beasley (Blondie) Should earn combat pay. Poorest delivery timing in the industry.

9. Postman Pat Cheerful Yorkshireman gets the job done. Kind to children and animals.

8. Newman (Seinfeld) Schemer. Dirty-dealer. Nemesis. Neighbor.

7. Mr. Zip Plays the job by the numbers. Can narrow you down to five digits with a glance.

6. Moist von Lipwig (Terry Pratchett's Going Postal) More a postmaster than a postman, but let's count him because he brought the idea of collectibility for collectibility's sake to the Discworld.

5. Mr. McFeely (Mister Roger's Neighborhood) Friendliest mailman in town. Experienced at delivering packages to scary puppets.

4. Mister Mailman (Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town) Knows a lot about mythological personalities. Fantastic singing voice. Excellent dancer.

3. Reba the Mail Lady (Pee Wee's Playhouse) The Secret Word is "Reba-licious!"

2. Cliff Clavin Know-it-all. Barfly. Staunch friend.

1. Willie Lumpkin Strong back from delivering massive amounts of fan mail. Amazing superpower of ear-wiggling. One-time Herald of Galactus.

Mailmen of fiction, we salute you!