Battling Boy (First Second)
Written & drawn by Paul Pope
I’m not nearly as familiar with Paul Pope’s work as I’d like to be. I know I read either 100% or Heavy Liquid while at Wizard, but can’t remember exactly which one. I do know that he blew me away with Batman: Year 100 and loved staring at his Adam Strange installments in Wednesday Comics. So, when I heard that he had a superhero-esque graphic novel coming out and that our library had it in the system, I was very excited to finally give the results a read.
Battling Boy is set in a world where extra-dimensional beings head to other planes of existence to prove themselves when they reach a certain age. The title character is one such kid whose Thor-like dad drops him off in a monster-ridden world with a series of power-infused T-shirts and a cape. It’s good timing because the place’s science hero Haggard West has just been dispatched leaving his daughter Aurora to pick up the slack. I don’t want to get into too many details because that’s all part of the fun, but our hero, while super powerful, does deal with a lot of more common questions like “Should I just have my dad take care of things?” and “Should I tell these people I have no idea what I’m doing?”
This first volume sets up a really interesting world that I’m psyched to return to, especially because Pope’s artwork is just so…Popian? Papal? This guy’s style is so much his and a part of him that I’m down for reading anything he puts out.
The Rise of Aurora West (First Second)
Written by Paul Pope & JT Petty, drawn by David Rubin
When I first got The Rise Of The Aurora West from the library, I was surprised for a few reasons. First, I didn’t realize that this wasn’t a pure Pope effort and second, I was unaware it’s a black and white manga-esque offering. After just a few pages, though, I didn’t mind either perceived problem. Rubin’s art is very much in line with Pope’s, so it feels like it’s all part of the same thing even sans color.
This story actually takes place before the events of Battling Boy, chronicling the adventures of Aurora and her attempts to figure out what happened to her deceased mother and what it may or may not have to do with her imaginary friend.
In a lot of ways, this book actually felt a little more focused and on-point than the previous book which had a kind of fever dream quality to it not uncommon in Pope’s work. Part of that might be that I’m just used to what this world is about and part is because this book focuses solely on Earth and not the extra-reality zones Battling Boy is from. I also appreciated that, after being introduced to these characters and this place in the first volume, I got to learn even more about what happened to this world. There are still plenty of more mysteries to be had, which is why I’m excited to keep reading whatever else comes out in this series.
Last week had one of my favorite days of the year: a Friday the 13th! As it happened, my mom took the kids over to their place for most of the day which meant that, even though I had a lot of things to get done around the house, I could watch whatever I wanted.
First, I checked out Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse on my computer while getting my work done. I’ve had a copy of this movie for a while, acquired sometime after I watched it for the first time in 2009. I wish I’d read my review from back then because this movie is mostly boring and creepy in ways that don’t make it enjoyable (the brother-sister Psycho homage in the beginning, the truck driver affectionately caressing the boy’s face right in front of his parents who could care less). Unnerving scenes usually help build tension in a film, but since these have nothing to do with the actual threat of the piece, they just feel awkward, pointless and make me want to turn the movie off. I didn’t, but I did basically stop paying attention. That one will not be sticking around.
I had a much better time with a movie called The Shortcut that my buddy Rickey passed me a year or two back. All he told me was that it was directed by Nicholaus Goossen who did the excellent Grandma’s Boy (in fact, those are his only feature credits). Had I paid a little more attention to what I had, I probably would have watched this movie sooner because it stars national treasure Dave Franco, 30 Rock‘s Katrina Bowden and Raising Hope‘s Shannon Woodward, all actors whose work I’ve enjoyed at one time or another.
The plot revolves around Drew Seeley’s character and his investigationin to the weird guy living in the woods who terrorizes anyone who takes a shortcut near the school in a small town. Since he and his family just moved in, they’re not familiar with the rumors about the crazy old man who lives there. Soon enough, a group of high school kids take it upon themselves to investigate what’s really going on in a creepy old farmhouse.
I don’t want to get too much into the actual plot points because I enjoyed going into this movie completely blind and having a pretty good time with it. In addition to a talented cast and a script with just the right amount of twists and turns (or possibly one too many), I really dug this movie because it reminded me of the kinds of creepy stories we’d tell each other as kids. Where I grew up there were two consistent rumors that scared all of us, yet compelled us to tell all our friends. I don’t remember many details, but one was called the CK Killer (or possibly the KC Killer?) the other Dirty Mitch.
The former either supposedly killed or kidnapped a bunch of kids at my grade school and the other was a weirdo who lived near the park across the street from my house. I even remember kids pointing out a particular house on the bus route that he lived in. At one point the two myths collided, making them partners in crime. I just did a few Google searches for both names and nothing came up, so I guess they were complete fiction. Still, those stories — or at least the names and vague recollections of them — have stuck with me to this day and The Shortcut works with a lot of those same feelings in a way I haven’t quite seen before (or at least in a long time).
Okay, so I guess I lied above when I mentioned that I don’t want to talk about plot points too much. This paragraph features heavy end-of-movie SPOILERS, so why don’t you stop here if you don’t want the finale ruined. I can’t tell if I like or hate the end of this movie where it’s revealed that the main kid’s younger brother is also a crazy murderer, like the main villain of the piece. On one hand, it feels way too coincidental that these two pairs of brothers come into contact. On the other, it’s kind of an interesting. Either way, it’ll be interesting to watch the movie again to see if the seeds for this reveal are planted ahead of time or if it comes out of nowhere.
X-Men: Schism (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron with Kieron Gillen, drawn by Carlos Pacheco, Frank Cho, Daniel Acuna, Alan Davis, Adam Kubert & Billy Tan
Collects X-Men: Schism #1-5, X-Men: Regenesis #1
I’ve gone about reading recent X-Men comics a bit backwards. I actually started off with the first volume of Bendis’ All-New X-Men, but was confused about what was going on. Then I read the first Wolverine & The X-Men by Jason Aaron and Avengers Vs. X-Men but realized I needed to go back even a bit farther. I finally figured out that all roads lead back to Schism, so I got that as well as the first Kieron Gillen volume of Uncanny X-Men.
I actually read the X-Men pretty consistently during the run up to Messiah Complex, but that’s about my experience with these characters in this medium. After MC, the X-Men scored their own island, called it Utopia and seemed to be doing alright. Then Schism went down, shook things up and a bold new direction was kicked off in its wake.
In Schism, Quentin Quire, a teen anarchist mutant from Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, kicked off some trouble for the X-Men, but the real brains behind the operation are a bunch of evil, super smart kids who take over the Hellfire Club in an effort to make money and stir things up for mutants. In the process Cyclops and Wolverine come to blows over whether the kids on Utopia should be thrust into battle or be allowed to bail. At the end of the ordeal — which involves a lot of Sentinels sold and designed by the Hellfire Club kids — Wolverine decides to restart the school while Cyclops continues to train the children to defend themselves and mutant kind.
As an event, I thought Schism was well put together and presented. Sometimes these events with a clear endpoint (split the X-teams) feel really telegraphed and weak from a storytelling perspective. In this case, though, by making this an issue with valid points on both sides, Aaron and company do what Civil War couldn’t in my mind: make me understand both sides.
I also enjoyed the Who’s Who of X-artists doing their thing on this series. I’m not always a fan of the idea of splitting up a series like this with different artists, especially ones like this that are very distinct, but in this case, I liked it BECAUSE these artists all have such distinct styles. They all came to play and the results are great superhero action.
Wolverine & the X-Men, Vol. 1 (Marvel)
Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Chris Bachalo with Duncan Rouleau, Matteo Scalera & Nick Bradshaw
Collects Wolverine & The X-Men #1-4
As I mentioned, I was a bit mixed up and actually read Wolverine & The X-Men after AVX which is not the best order. After his disagreement with Cyclops, Wolverine has gone off to form his own school called The Jean Grey School For Gifted Youngsters. Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Beast and a few other X-folks including a good deal of the younger mutants all came along for the ride as well.
The first volume features an attack by the new Hellfire Club (a bunch of punk kids) and the introduction of a few new members like the new Krakoa, a nerdy Brood and a boy that sure looks an awful lot like Apocalypse (he’s from Uncanny X-Force which Wolverine also starred in at that time). I also really enjoyed the art by Chris Bachalo (who drew much of the Supernovas story that I’m also a big fan of) and Nick Bradshaw who blew me away with his part in Escape From The Negative Zone (dude’s like a cartoonier Art Adams). My only complaint is that the printing on this particular book didn’t seem to do Bachalo’s artwork justice.
I’m glad that Aaron wrapped up the younger Hellfire Club story, at least partially, because I kind of hate the idea of killer kids in general. I appreciate the idea of balancing the physical superiority of heroes against the smaller-of-stature children, but I always have a hard time buying into the idea that children are these awful, murderous creatures. It’s a personal hang-up of mine that doesn’t reflect on the story at all. Anyway, I’ll definitely be back for more of this book because it had a really fun tone, set up a lot of interesting relationships and makes me want to find out what happens to them next.
Uncanny X-Men By Kieron Gillen Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Kieron Gillen, drawn by Carlos Pacheco, Rodney Buscemi, Brandon Peterson, et al
Collects Uncanny X-Men #1-4
With mutant life hanging in the balance, Cyclops develops a simple plan: make the humans so petrified of his squad that they won’t be jerks to less flashy mutants. This so-called Extinction Team consists of Cyke, Emma Frost, Magneto, Magik, Colossus, Storm, Danger and Hope. In this first outing they go up against Mr. Sinister who has siphoned the power of the Dream Celestial and built a city of his own clones.
The first three issues are pretty tight and do a solid job of both explaining and showing what Cyclops’ mission is. I’ve always had a hard time understanding how the people in the Marvel U can be so bigoted against mutants when they live in a world filled with other people with strange powers, abilities and afflictions, so it was interesting to see Cyke go on the offensive against those people. All in all though, I’m not sure how long I’ll be on board this book. I loved WATX because it was fun and a bit light, but this one, like Cyclops himself, might just be too serious for me at this point. Still, I’ve got the next few volumes of both requested from the library and will let you know how those reading experiences go!
Leading into the new year, I was on a big Captain America kick. After organizing my trades in my new office I realized that I had all of the trade’s covering Ed Brubaker’s run up through Reborn and decided it was time to give the whole run a read-through. This won’t be a traditional trade post going volume by volume, but I did want to take a bit of internet real estate out to write down some of my thoughts on this epic undertaking (Brubaker’s, not mine).
This run kicked off in late 2004. At the time of launch, I wasn’t aware of what was going on aside from what I read in Wizard. At the time, I was in my last year of college and not reading too many books, aside from Runaways and New Avengers which I was picking up at a local hobby shop (when I went home for vacations, I’d mainline my regular books). I can’t say for sure, but I probably didn’t even know who Brubaker was at the time. He was working on a run of comics that easily became not just a favorite of mine, but I believe, a definitive one for one of comics’ longest running heroes.
And it all started with a bit of continuity craziness. For as long as I’d read and read about comics, the adage was, “No one stays dead in comics except Uncle Ben and Bucky.” But Brubaker noticed something interesting: Bucky never died on panel. The event was referred to and remembered many times, but readers never actually saw it happen “in real time.” With that in mind, he set out on a series of events to bring Bucky back, first as the villainous Winter Soldier and then as a potentially more interesting man-out-of-time than his partner. Around all that, Brubaker created an espionage-filled tale of intrigue that involved Red Skull, a new villain called General Lukin, the Cosmic Cube, S.H.I.E.L.D., Arnim Zola, Agent Carter, Falcon, World War II adventures, murder, Civil War and falling through time.
By pitting the seminal hero against a variety of villains old and new and also teaming Cap up with the best heroes the Marvel U has to offer, Brubaker shows how great of a person Steve Rogers really is. This is a man who never, ever gives up. He won’t just fight until he can’t fight anymore, but he will also believe in the goodness of his friends, even when they’ve seemingly done terrible, awful things. At the same time, Brubaker gives fantastic treatment to characters like Sharon Carter, Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson that feel equally weighted, and sometimes even more important than what’s going on with Steve.
Of course, as anyone who read this book or paid attention to comics in the past 10 years or so already knows, Steve Rogers was not the star of the book after getting apparently murdered after the events of Civil War. This allowed Bucky to step into the costume and become a new kind of Captain America. This allowed Bru to continue exploring Bucky as a character while also showing how great Steve is in comparison.
Even with Steve out of the picture, though, that doesn’t mean the bad guys aren’t still planning and plotting against anyone wielding Cap’s shield. But, as we learn — and you’ll notice upon a new read through — this particular gang of miscreants has been planning something huge for YEARS. That’s one of the many reason I enjoy going back and doing these larger read-throughs, I pick up on so many of the seeds planted that I wizzed by the first time around. Of course, it helps when you already know where the story is going.
All of this comes to a head with Road To Reborn and Reborn. When I first read these books, I was working at Wizard and we’d snatch the issues up when they were available. That meant I read through them pretty quickly, usually while eating lunch, and getting them back to the stacks so someone else could read them. Actually being able to take my time with these, savor and study them a bit made for a much richer reading experience.
I’ve talked a lot about Brubaker in this post, but I also have to give huge props to regular series artists Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Luke Ross and Butch Guice who did an amazing job of keeping a consistent tone throughout these issues. Epting’s the hero for me, but all of these artists came together to create a general idea of dark, yet bold superheroics that look just as good in the daylight as they do in the shadows. I also give a lot of credit to series colorist Frank D’Armata who kept things consistent across the board. I think his work on this book was actually the first time I really noticed how important a colorist’s work can be.
I read these 11 trades in pretty short order, but hit a roadblock because I didn’t have many of the trades after Reborn. I requested a series of books from the library — including these other Brubaker-penned volumes — but went off track in my read-through when I got some extra Christmas money and purchased the Trial Of Captain America Omnibus for about half price. I returned the Cap books I’d gotten from the library and waited for my killer hardcover to come in, but in the mean time, I went a little crazy with the library requests and haven’t cracked the brand new big book.
I’ve calmed down a bit with the requests and hope to get back to Captain America pretty soon. Not only did I have a great time going back through these issues, but we’re getting to a point in the book that I’m not nearly as well-versed in. In fact, I haven’t read a good deal of these issues, so this will be a whole different, reading experience!
I had a bit of a rough birthday last Friday. I was alone with the kids, had a hefty amount of work to get done and had just gotten over a pretty gnarly stomach virus. So, when they both finally fell asleep, I thought I’d treat myself to an action movie. After flipping through Netflix, I came to The Protector 2, the sequel to one of my favorite action movies, and decided to give it a shot.
It was a major disappointment.
I’ve written several times about how much I like Tony Jaa’s amazing, athletic, intense films. Ong Bak and Protector are top notch examples of modern action classics. I’ve even watched movies that he only cameos in and got pretty bummed when he retired to become a monk for a few years. So, when I saw this movie on Netflix I was incredibly excited, but it was a total let down.
My first problem came about 20 minutes in during the first major fight scenes that finds Jaa’s Kham once again trying to find an elephant by beating his way through street thugs. This particular one takes place on a series of rooftops and involves a variety of bad guys attacking on dirt bikes. The problem is that, as soon as you introduce an idea like that, action fans are going to start comparing it to the one from Rumble In The Bronx.
In theory, Jaa and director Prachya Pinkaew (Ong-bak, The Protector) had the potential to top Chan’s work, but they fall incredibly far from the mark. The green screen work is awful as are the explosions and shotty compositions that are supposed to make you believe that a motorcycle is that close to a person’s head. Even if I’m mistaken in what I thought were poorly done special effects, there’s something about the film quality that makes me doubt what I’m seeing. And the key feature to movies like this is believing everything that’s happening (something that this director and star have done easily in films past). If I find myself thinking, “Is that real?” instead of “HOW’D THEY DO THAT!!!” something’s wrong.
I hoped that might be the end of the film’s problems, but that wasn’t the case. A later fight scene is set in a room on fire, something that happened in an early Jaa offering (I really can’t remember if it was Ong-bak or Protector, it’s impossible to keep those movies straight). They seemed intent on upping the ante by making a TON of fire, but instead it looks goofy because it’s all CGI. Oh and did I mention the fight that takes place in a zeppelin hanger for no apparent reason? Ugh.
But worst of all was the fact that, in some of these scenes, Jaa looked bored. In his earlier films, this guy stomped through his scenes like a force of nature intent on avenging elephants. Now, that sounds silly as I type it, but this dude was INTENT. There are whole scenes in this film where he looks like he’s waiting for lunch. It’s too bad because I’ve often thought that disappointing is worse than bad, but in this case, I think this movie is both and didn’t even bother finishing it.
The Batman Adventures Vol. 1 (DC)
Written by Kelley Puckett & Martin Pasko, drawn by Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett, Brad Rader & Mike Parobeck
Collects The Batman Adventures #1-10
In a recent post over on my dad blog PopPoppa.com, I reviewed the delightful Batman ’66 Volume 1, a series set in the same universe as the 1960s Adam West TV series. I noted that the series would be a pretty great place to start if you were looking to give younger kids a good jumping on point for Batman. While it does have a good deal of crime, it’s very much in-line with the tone of the TV series which means its lighthearted, fun and also very funny.
I’m always looking for comics that I can read to my daughter when and if she’s interested in going down that route, so when I was at the library, I also picked up the first volume of The Batman Adventures which was amazing, but not something I’ll be passing along to my kiddo at this point. I wasn’t super surprised because the cartoon this is based on — Batman: The Animated Series — is also kind of dark.
That being said, though, these are still some pretty great Bat-comics that would be great for an older kid or anyone interested in checking out the Dark Knight’s comic book exploits. The series kicks off with an already-established version of Batman running around Gotham putting a stop to hooligans like Penguin, Catwoman, Joker and the rest. I appreciated that writer Kelley Puckett avoided the tired idea of going through Batman’s origin in the first issue. Everyone knows who Batman is and why he does what he does, it doesn’t need to be reiterated and isn’t. I also appreciated that, even though the first three issues can and do stand alone, they also work as an overarching drama that pits Bats against some of his greatest foes.
These 10 issues show exactly why Batman is the kind of character that people have been reading about and following for 75 years. He does whatever it takes to save people while also showing that he has a heart. While reading these issues ostensibly written for children, I found myself thrilled with Batman’s exploits, worrying about people and even feeling bad for bad guys like Killer Croc and Clayface. These delightful adventures are brought to life by a quartet of artists who do a killer job working within the style presented by the TV series. I’m actually a big fan of Mike Parobeck who drew four issues going back to the Justice Society Of America miniseries’ he worked on in the early 90s that introduced me to a team I’ve loved ever since. If you’re looking for a continuity-light, easy access series of Batman comics to read yourself or pass to an interested party, I can’t recommend this collection more!
I’m also giving Adventures Of Superman Volume 1 a big thumb’s up. This is a series that appeared digitally first, then collected into single issues before being brought together into a trade. Unlike The Batman Adventures, this book is actually an anthology with a variety of killer writers and artists doing Superman stories from a continuity-free place that has no connection to existing media (ie, it’s not based on a TV show or cartoon).
The beauty of these stories is that they come from such a creative place. When it comes to a hero like Superman who has been around forever and is an important part of DC’s publishing plan, you can get to a place where the comics and stories feel artificially manufactured or even half-assed. But, because these are short stories brought to you by some of the best and brightest this industry has to offer, you can feel that — even if you don’t necessarily dig the tale — it came from a truly creative place.
AOS is also nice for people like me who have a long-standing love of Superman, but don’t care for what’s been done since DC restarted the continuity a few years ago. I’ve said that “my” versions of a lot of these characters aren’t being published anymore (but thankfully still exist in the 20 longboxes sitting in my garage), but many of the stories in this collection have that feel which is really nice.
If you’re a Superman fan who feels like your favorite hero is constantly written off as a Big Blue Boring Boy Scout, I’d say that Adventures Of Superman Volume 1 is the perfect book to hand to someone as proof that that is not the case. Yes, he’s a great hero, but he’s also a great character whose adventures I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading.
I’ve got more She-Ra goodness here on this week’s TCT. This time around the spot focuses solely on the Princes of Power herself. I’m still shocked by how restrained and gentle the girls in this commercial are, to almost Stepford degrees. Compare that ad to this He-Man one I wrote about last summer and they’re totally different! It’s too bad Mattel felt the need to go this route and I assume it didn’t represent how girls of the time actually played with these toys. My 3 year old started watching She-Ra and not a week later was chasing her Papa around the house with a wrapping paper tube craving an all-out battle. I’d guess that was far more the norm than distant fawning and adulation being bestowed upon a toy that’s literally put on a pedestal.