My Favorite Blockbuster “Discoveries” Of 2017

Happy New Year everyone. I decided to celebrate by compiling a series of lists celebrating my favorite films and shows of 2017. Sounds like pretty standard stuff, right? Yup, totally. However, these lists will include not just new films from last year, but new-to-me ones that I enjoyed. This one celebrates the glory of big screen blockbusters, most of which I saw on the small screen because, you know, kids.

First off, I’d just like to reiterate how much I enjoyed Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) and San Andreas (2015) from director Gary Peyton.  I had a great time watching both of those movies earlier this year and highly recommend checking them out if you’re looking for big budget disaster fare. I also had a silly amount of fun watching Vin Diesel in 2015’s The Last Witch Hunter helmed by Breck Eisner. I think this will make a great weekend movie tune-in type of movie.

Continue reading My Favorite Blockbuster “Discoveries” Of 2017

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The Midnight Comic Club Episode 1 – Super Scares!

Welcome to the first meeting of The Midnight Comic Club! A few months ago, I got an idea that just would not leave me alone: a podcast about horror comics. There are plenty of shows about horror and many about comics, but this cross-section seamed relatively uncovered. It’s time to fire up those flashlights and read some creepy comics!

This first episode focuses on some of my favorite Superman-related horror stories that I read not long after getting into comics in 1992. I cover everything from hugely popular stories like the Death of Superman to smaller, but still-hard-hitting tales like the sad story of Adam Grant.

Here’s  a series of Comixology links to some of the issues featured in the episode including The Death Of Superman and Adventures Of Superman #500, Superman #84, 85 and Action Comics #865. Superman Annual #7 doesn’t seem to be on there, but Action #692 is. You can check out DC Comics Presents #85 as a single issue or just go for the DC Universe By Alan Moore. I’m not seeing Adventures Of Superman Annual #6, Superboy Annual #1 or Action Annual #1 as digital issues, but the last one can be found in the Dark Knight Over Metropolis and Man Of Steel Volume 6 collections.  Finally, if you’re interested in Emperor Joker, here’s the trade. If you REALLY want to get your hands on the unlinked-to issues, MyComicShop.com has them: Superman Annual #7, Adventures of Superman Annual #6 and Superboy Annual #1 (scroll on down til you see them, they’re only $1.70 each!).

If you have any questions or want to suggest topics for future shows, hit me up in the comments! Also, if you like the show, tell your friends and head on over to Apple and rate the podcast!

DC Trade Post: Sensation Comics Volume 1, Mad Love & A Few Others

I found myself with another pile of trades from the library recently and figured I’d write about all four of them. Two of the experiences were great, the others? Not so much. Let’s start with the good!

sensation comics vol 1I’m a big proponent of anthologies in comics. At their best, they’re a great way to both test new talent and also give those with a lot more experience the chance to write or draw a character they don’t otherwise get to spend much time with. Sensation Comics Volume 1 does both and to great effect. This is one of DC’s digital-first books that allows creators to just go wild telling whatever kind of Wonder Woman story they want to from any of her many eras. It was nice to see the pre-New 52 costume so many times for this fan of that bygone era! Continue reading DC Trade Post: Sensation Comics Volume 1, Mad Love & A Few Others

Grant Morrison Trade Post: JLA One Million & JLA Earth 2

jla one millionI’ve been slowly making my way through Grant Morrison’s mainstream DC Comics work starting with Animal Man and working up through The Flash and JLA. I’ve reabsorbed the first two JLA Deluxe volumes, but already reviewed those here and here, so it seemed like a good time to jump over and do JLA: One Million and JLA Earth 2.

DC One Million was an event that took place in November of 1998. The idea was that these characters from the far future — the 853rd century to be exact — would be around when the one millionth issue of Action Comics was published in “real time.” The heroes from the future came to the past to tell the originators that they were celebrating Superman Prime coming out of the sun after a long time. So, many of the JLA members went to the future where they were accused of being imposters while a plague ran through the present day. It was all pretty crazy and a tip off of the kind of event Morrison would create when he did Final Crisis a decade or so later.

I was a huge fan of this crossover drawn by Val Semeiks when it happened and have collected even more of the tie-ins in the ensuing years, though there is an omnibus that looks pretty rad. Anyway, I read the late 90s/early 00s trade that’s part of the JLA line and it’s a pretty weird reading experience thanks to the lack of covers between issues, slap dash creative credits and bouncing around between the main series and the tie-ins. The story itself is basically perfect for an event because much of the future stuff takes place in the tie-ins while the main series deals with the future heroes trying to save the present. The downside of that is that it feels like you’re reading about half a story when going through this particular trade.

As far as signature Morrison moments and ideas go, this book is jam-packed with them. You’ve got the idea that the superheroes we know and love essentially turn into gods who can not be forgotten, no matter how hard some try. That legacy idea is huge throughout his DC work. There’s also a quick appearance by General Eiling and his Ultra Marines who appear in JLA Deluxe Volume 3, but more than that Morrison takes equal time to shine the spotlight on the big guns as well as a ragtag group that includes Steel, Huntress, Plastic Man, Barda and Zauriel who are trying to save humanity. But more than anything — and the moment that stuck with me for decades after the fact — is the idea that he gives Superman a happy ending in regards to Lois. As a die-hard and longtime Superman fan, this meant — and continues to mean — a lot to me.

JLA_Earth_2I was less enthusiastic about JLA: Earth 2 by Morrison and Frank Quitely, the team that worked on New X-Men and All-Star Superman together later on down the line. This 2000 graphic novel came out towards the end of Morrison’s run on JLA which ended that same year and reintroduced the idea of the Crime Syndicate — evil versions of the Justice Leaguers — to the post-Crisis continuity.

See, back in the day when there were multiple Earths, the Crime Syndicate came from Earth 3 where good and evil were backwards. Instead of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman being heroes, Ultraman, Owl Man and Superwoman were big time baddies. In Morrison’s version, instead of coming from Earth 3, this gang was part of the Anti-Matter Universe. They referred to the regular DCU as Earth 2, hence the title.

The story itself follows Anti-Matter Lex Luthor (a hero) as he travels to the regular DCU reality to recruit the JLA into going back home with him to help out. They do so, but in an act of cosmic balance, the Crime Syndicate — which also includes Johnny Quick and Power Ring — gets transported to the regular DCU where they cause havoc. However, both soon realize that good and evil naturally triumph in each reality and return home.

Of all of the Morrison DC comics I’ve read so far, this one feels the most straightforward and “normal.” There aren’t any huge twists or mind-bending elements aside from the fact that certain universes only allow for certain elements to win out. It’s well-told and brisk, but not exactly what you’d expect from the man who had Superman fight an angel to a standstill. It also looks perfectly Quitely. It’s big and bold and mean at times (he draws the best sneers in the game). His is a style I wasn’t big on at first, but once I started seeing the incredible detail included, I completely switched around to uber-fandom.

I think part of the reason I didn’t really latch onto this story is that I just can’t get into stories where characters are just super, duper, completely and totally evil. And that’s exactly what the CSA members are. They murder and oppress citizens with impunity for no other reason than they can. In other words, they’re as far from a sympathetic villain as you can get. I’m guessing this was done as a way to shine a light on how good and amazing our heroes are, but I just wasn’t feeling it at the time. Still, it’s a fun, quick and oh-so-pretty adventure.

Wonder Woman Trade Post: Guts & Iron

wonder woman vol 2 gutsWonder Woman Volume 2: Guts (DC)
Written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang with Tony Akins
Collects Wonder Woman #7-12

While ordering the first batch of Greg Rucka Wonder Woman comics from the library, I realized I’d read the first volume of Brian Azzarello’s New 52 Wonder Woman series, but hadn’t gone on beyond that. So, I looked around, requested the second and third volumes and started reading. But before that, I went back and gave the first volume a re-read because my memory is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

The major information points from the first book involved Diana discovering that she’s not made of clay, but instead Zeus’ daughter, meeting a young woman named Zola who’s carrying another child of Zeus and some of the family drama and politics that come from being a member of the Greek god clan. But all of that was really set up for these two volumes. The great thing about all three of these books is that Azzarello finds fun and interesting ways of giving the heroes what they want and then almost instantly taking it away in a way that shuffles a lot of characters around.

In the case of Guts, Wonder Woman teams up with Lennox, Hermes, Eros and Hephaestus figure out a way to get Zola back from Hades who wants her as his bride. Basically, these are the good members of the gods who feel sorry for this poor girl who happened to fall for the wrong guy. Without giving too much away, Diana ensures Zola’s safety, gets herself out of Hell and essentially saves the day, but things don’t go well for Zola’s baby by the end when it turns out that one of the people in their camp is a traitor.

wonder woman vol 3 iron Wonder Woman Volume 3: Iron (DC)
Written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang with Tony Akins, Dan Green, Goran Sudzuka, Amilcar Pinna & Rick Burchett
Collects Wonder Woman #0, 13-18

As you might expect given what I said above, Wonder Woman’s new goal in the third book is getting Zola’s baby back to her. She’s still got most of her crew with her as well as Hera who adds a great deal of comic relief, but also a new comrade in the form of Orion of the New Gods. Along the way we also get to meet more of Diana and Lennox’s half brothers and sisters as they are all modern illegitimate children of Zeus. As with the previous volumes, there’s plenty of trickery going around on all sides, but at the end of the book we get something of a happy ending, but with another looming danger, which is exactly what comics should have.

One of the really interesting things Azzarello does in this book is doing something new and different with the Greek gods. These are characters who have been around forever and been interpreted in a myriad of ways, especially if you read Wonder Woman comics. I’ve seen them as the robe-wearing gods of myth, human-like business people and just about everything in between. Azzarello mixes some of that old mythology with his own new ideas and makes a family that’s often as interesting as the title character herself. Plus, there’s the addition of Diana’s fellow Zeus progeny and the connection to the New Gods that I assume gets fleshed out in later volumes.

As much as I liked these volumes there were a few odd sticking points for me, though I will admit right away that I might have just missed these points in Azzarello’s rapid fire dialog. I didn’t think the fact that Zeus had gone missing was very well conveyed. There was also the matter of Diana removing her gauntlets and being super powerful. Why didn’t she do this earlier when she was in danger? It was a cool move, but it kinda felt like something added in just to be a cool move. I also personally miss the majesty that used to come along with the character that’s basically gone in these pages, but were all over the place in Rucka’s run. Basically, these are two different takes on the character and each writer is doing or did their own thing which is great.

One thing that did surprise me is how completely separate this feels from the rest of the New 52 DCU. There’s next to no mention of any other heroes or villains, which is an interesting choice. Orion and Highfather of the New Gods show up, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t appearing anywhere else at the time. This is good and bad for various reasons. On one hand, this is a great story that should just do its thing. On the other, what’s the point of being part of a shared comic book universe if there’s no sharing? It’s a similar concern I have with Scott Snyder’s Batman, which is the other New 52 book I really love. As with Batman, I’m pretty much onboard for everything Azzarello wants to do with this character and I’ll keep checking in to see what’s going on in that particular book.

Wonder Woman Trade Post: The Hiketeia, Down To Earth & Bitter Rivals

wonder woman the hiketeia Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by J.G. Jones

Back in my Wizard days one of the editors was a huge Greg Rucka fan. I was familiar with his Batman work at the time, but not the variety of other comic and novel projects he’d worked on. Over the years I’ve become a big fan myself, both of his comics and the man himself. A few weeks back I was thinking about Wonder Woman comics and remembered that he did a pretty substantial run and headed to my library website to see if the books were available. As it turns out they all are, so get ready for a few Greg Rucka Wondy posts in the next few weeks. The Hiketeia, a 2002 graphic novel drawn by J.G. Jones is a pretty simple story that bridges Rucka’s Batman and Wonder Woman work by having a murderer from Gotham asking for sanctuary and offering her servitude (a ritual known as The Hiketeia) to Wonder Woman which she accepts. Having given her word, Wonder Woman is compelled to protect this woman even against her trusted ally and friend Batman as the Furies keep watch. I really enjoyed Jones’ artwork in this book. I didn’t enjoy him as much on something like Final Crisis, but in this case, he really nails Wonder Woman’s power, even when she’s wearing jeans and a tank top. He’s got a lot of dynamism too that works as easily when drafting the dark Batman and the light-loving Diana. I also like that we’re dealing with an established version of Wonder Woman. I don’t want to rag on the New 52 too much — especially because I like Brian Azzarello’s take on the character — but there’s just not as much history there. This book comes from the era of DC Comics I’m most familiar with and was most interested in, so it’s cool to see how well Batman and Wonder Woman respect each other, even if they don’t get along particularly well in this story. The Hiketeia acts as a great sampler for what I’ve read of Rucka’s Wonder Woman run so far. It’s appropriately steeped in Greek mythology and custom, which is exactly how a person built of clay from an island filled with mythological Greek women should be. You also get a sense of the majesty that surrounds Diana, which is a huge part of the upcoming run.

Wonder Woman Down to Earth Wonder Woman: Down To Earth (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Drew Johnson
Collects Wonder Woman #195-200

Not long after The Hiketeia, Rucka took over as the regular writer on Wonder Woman. If you’re picking this book out of the blue, here’s a few things you need to know. 1) Wonder Woman was a goddess for a little while, but isn’t any longer. 2) Her home island of Themyscira is known to the world and has declared itself a country. 3) Wonder Woman is not only a solo hero and part of the JLA, but also the ambassador for Themyscrira to the United States.

Down To Earth is basically the first third of a movie that you don’t get the end of until later in the run. Rucka’s playing a long game here and gets a lot of balls rolling that pay off in various ways. Our entry character here is Jonah, a new embassy worker joining the team as Diana’s book, a collection of essays and speeches, hits the world. What they don’t know, though, is that a woman named Veronica Cale is gunning for Wonder Woman, going so far as to bankroll a slander campaign against her that involved right wing-esque complains of her Amazonian heritage, killers and Dr. Psycho.

This volume also sets up Ares machinations amongst the gods, Diana’s more nature-based sense of heroism, the return of the Silver Swan and the near-destruction of Paradise Island. If you’re looking for a one-off Wonder Woman book to read, this is not the one for you, but if you want to invest yourself in a classically plotted run of comics, this is for you.

wonder woman bitter rivals Wonder Woman: Bitter Rivals (DC)
Written by Greg Rucka, drawn by Drew Johnson, Shane Davis, Steve Sadowski & Linda Medley
Collects Wonder Woman #200-205

Bitter Rivals basically carries over all of the elements from the previous book, adding a few more pieces of information — like Cale’s origin story and why she has a mad-on for Wonder Woman — to the mix while also keeping the larger mysterious interesting enough to keep me along for the ride.

With Wonder Woman’s deck shuffled pretty heavily in the previous volume with the uproar against her, the murder of one of her opposers, Circe teaming up with the Gorgons, Silver Swan’s potential recovery and Paradise Island being nearly destroyed.

In this one, Wonder Woman goes to Cale’s partner for help in figuring out what’s wrong with Silver Swan. Batman also shows up to let her know that Dr. Psycho had something to do with the death of the aforementioned opposer. The book ends with a fight between everyone and Dr. Psycho and the return of Medusa which basically makes it the mid season finale of the run.

Another chapter of Rucka’s overall story, Bitter Rivals is, again, not a good entry point book. It’s part of a larger whole. You could probably jump in here and figure out what’s going on, but that’s silly. We’re used to doing that as comic readers, but when it comes to Rucka’s Wonder Woman run, you’re dealing with five books and 30-some comics. It’s not such a big deal to track them all down and read the whole thing. That’s my plan, assuming I can ever get my hands on the third book from my library (I’ve got the other two sitting right here).

Before signing off here, I want to say a few words about Drew Johnson’s art. He’s not an artist that I had an opinion on going into these books, but I’ve got to say, I found his pencils to be really solid and majestic. Sometimes, things feel a little slight, which is a misstep when you’re dealing with a character like Wonder Woman who is supposed to be surrounded by a sense of majesty, but overall, he really got the hang of things as these first two books got going. His Dr. Psycho is super creepy, but I think his Veronica Cale is the best of the bunch because she’s supposed to have her own majestic quantity, but housed in a human form that’s got a darker interior than Diana. He nailed her right off the bat and I’m really excited to see how things go from here.

Books Of Justice: New 52 Volume 1 & 2

justice league origins Justice League Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52) (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Jim Lee with Carlos D’Anda
Collects Justice League #1-6

After years of the Justice League not exactly taking center stage in the grand scheme of things in the DC Universe, the company put them right in the forefront when they launched the reality-altering New 52. Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee not only boasted one of the biggest creative teams around, but also marked the new continuity’s birth as the very first New 52 comic.

Set five years in the past, Origin puts the team together as they all face the incoming threat of Darkseid and his Parademons. It’s basically a “putting the band” together story that doesn’t feel contrived or boring, like some of the ones in the old continuity. In other words, there are no meeting scenes where the big three look at photos or ones where a bunch of scrub characters talk about how they’re going to carry on the team’s legacy. We start with Batman meeting Green Lantern. They then meet and fight Superman which leads to GL calling his pal Flash in. Later Wonder Woman and Aquaman show up. Oh and Cyborg goes from football star to, well, Cyborg as the story progresses.

After all the introductions and set-ups, our heroes finally face off against Darkseid in a battle that is clearly another set-up, but also feels satisfying because they earn their victory. Clearly, the dark New God will return, but that’s a story for another time.

What I liked most about this book is the tone and interactions between the members. It sets up their characters pretty well — even if those personalities might not reflect across the line — and gives an interesting dynamic between them that could be fun to read about. I will say that I’m not a fan of the overall dark and mean tone of this new DCU, but I guess that’s just part of the deal these days.  I haven’t heard great things about the huge crossovers that spun out of Justice League, but enjoying this book definitely piqued my interest in the second volume which I quickly requested from the library. I also got a big kick of of Flash’s line at the end where he calls their group The Super Seven.

Plus, can we just talk about how fun it is to look at a Jim Lee Justice League book? Even if it includes these weird, overly piped and paneled costumes, he’s just so good at drawing those big, iconic characters doing all kinds of crazy things. I’m down for at least looking at anything he does.

I actually picked this book up on a Comixology sale not long ago, but after my Kindle broke, I figured I’d check the library and see if I could get a hard copy. I will say that, while I like the convenience of digital comics, I still prefer actually holding the book.

justice league vol 2 the villain's journeyJustice League Vol 2: The Villain’s Journey (The New 52) (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Jim Lee, Carlos D’Anda, Gene Ha, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver & David Finch
Collects Justice League #7-12

It took me longer than expected to get my hands on this second volume called The Villain’s Journey. I guess someone else in the library system was equally excited about giving it a read. This second book is set in the current time frame of the DCU where the Justice Leagues have become a pretty big sensation that seems to defeat anything the universe can throw at it. But, there’s still some mistrust from the government and a mysterious villain first seen in the previous book who proves to be a bigger threat than anyone could have imagined.

And yet, there was something that just felt off about these issues. A LOT of time is spent on Steve Trevor and how sad he is because he loves Wonder Woman and she doesn’t love him back. That’s exactly what you want from your Big Seven Superhero comic, right? I only complain about that because it felt like the team itself doesn’t get nearly as much time as they should. As much as I love seeing the League fight against impossible odds, I also like to see a little bit more of them hanging out together and interacting.

I still like the interactions between Batman and Green Lantern and how GL and Flash are pals, but those relationships get leaned on a bit too heavily. Sure we find out that Superman hasn’t revealed his identity to his teammate in those five years, but what the heck does Cyborg do all day? As the one character in this comic without his own solo book, it seemed natural to focus more on him, but that doesn’t happen.

Speaking of characters who get a lot of page-time, but aren’t on the team, Green Arrow gets a lot of time too as the US government tries to get him on the team. Arrow trying to get on the team is something of a Justice League tradition, but in an odd turn, he doesn’t make the squad. Instead, this is all a set-up for Justice League Of America, a book I haven’t read yet.

Back to the villain for a paragraph, I just didn’t care and I’m not sure why. SPOILERS follow. This guy Graves and his family were saved by the League in their first mission back in the first trade. Something about the incident wound up killing his wife and kids, but also turned him into a weird monster that looked an awful lot like a White Martian. None of this is very well explained and all felt like a really long way to get around to Graves being locked up in Belle Reve where Amanda Waller asks him to write down how to destroy the League. I don’t think I would mind all of this if it was a one or two parter instead of spread out over all these issues.

This book also features Green Lantern’s exit from the group, a big fight between the members, a big kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman and a lot of teases about what’s coming up after this volume. All in all, I would say that this book didn’t do much for me. I really enjoyed how the first one just got right into it, but this one felt more plodding. I felt like I could see the plot points more clearly, like there was a checklist being checked off in a slightly disjointed manner. Part of the disjointed feeling came from the various artist drawing these issues. I’me a big fan of all these artists, but their styles are so vastly different that you’re constantly made aware that you’re on to the next part instead of being absorbed by the story.

It also felt like something of a misstep to focus on a brand new villain while also mentioning all of these established League villains who don’t do much of anything this time around. I’m sure this all leads to the next big thing in the DCU, but as a one-off volume meant to be read in and of itself, it’s not very satisfying.