Sunday, January 25, 2009

[New Title Pending]: Rapid Rack Reads 1

As some of you may know, the freelancing has been not-so-successful as of late but I promised new reviews. So here's my brief summaries until I can raise capital to do full-length reviews again (read: until I can afford to buy the comics and take them home). Basically, I read these in the store so I might have missed some of the subtle stuff but the overarching themes are there. Also, I know New Avengers came out a little bit ago, but I just read it. So there.

Dark Avengers #1: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Mike Deodato (artist)

PLOT: Norman Osborn and his assistant Ms. Hand set to work on creating the Dark Avengers (which in case you didn't figure it out is half ex-Thunderbolts, quarter ex-Avengers, the rest other people's characters co-opted from talented writers - I use the term loosely in Daken's case). And not a moment too soon...because Morgan Le Fay shows up to attack Doctor Doom in one of those classic time-traveling-boy-meets-sorceress-girl-and dumps-her-by-going-to-the-future-with-her-army-forcing-her-to-spy-on-him-through-a-magical-reflecting-surface-and-finding-him-not-only-alive-and-well-but-in-the-company-of-two-other-women situations. Ah love!

POINTS: Love the art! Mike Deodato's work rules! It's a first issue, which does the job of getting the team together and it does rather well. However, the whole story feels hollow and artificial and more could have been done. While there were some clever touches (the HAMMER gag in particular, Maria Hill and Ms. Marvel's reactions to Norman Osborn, and Moonstone and Ares's interactions) and great conflict set-up, there just isn't enough real action or justification for this team. The book feels so Thunderbolts-lite and I don't want to get into this book feeling biased but I do, because this is basically Ellis' team in shinier costumes. Everything feels very generic and all these "gather the team" gimmicks have been seen way too many times in the past year for me to be enthused anymore. 4 Cs out of 7.

New Avengers #48: Brian Michael Bendis (writer), Billy Tan (art)

PLOT: Yet another gather the team issue. But this team serves a couple of purposes: (1) Get Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' (a.k.a. Worst Parents Ever - Really?! Abandoning your child to go fight aliens?!) baby back and (2) Provide a resistance for the Dark Avengers. Oh and Mockingbird is back for good, people. Apparently because someone Loves The 80s (VH1 TM).

POINTS: Really just see the Dark Avengers review. The set-ups sound promising and the potential for conflict is there. There is a higher action quotient which adds to the entertainment value and the pro-activity of the team is a majorly refreshing change of pace from earlier issues where the plot was to have the team stare at each other from across a table until Spider-Woman blurts out what shady organization she's allied with this week. I'd be more impressed if the "Let's fill the reader in on the new status quo" issue didn't appear...oh...5 or 6 other times in this series. I have less patience for this book because it's been a lot of hype that hasn't gone anywhere and it's going to take a lot more than snappy dialogue to turn me around. Plus I still fail to see why Mockingbird is back, when Black Widow could have very clearly filled that spot on the team. 20:1 odds they'll be fighting ninjas within 5 issues. 3 Cs out of 7.

Uncanny X-Men Annual #2: Matt Fraction (writer), Daniel Acuna & Mitch Breitweiser (art)

PLOT: Emma Frost proves she's still got it by seducing Namor, taking on her former employer Sebastian Shaw, and showing she can stand eye-to-eye with the nastiest of the Marvel Universe. And finally readers understand why she's swept up in Bendis' Dark Reign. Plus, a Selene sighting!!!!*

POINTS: You know, this was actually well done. Considering it's linked to Dark Reign (which was a super-contrived follow-up to Secret Invasion), I wasn't particularly happy with the "SECRET HISTORY REVEALED" banner placed on this comic. And yet, the characterization really sold me. The comic did insert new White Queen history but it clarified a lot about her motivations and her change of heart. Frankly Sebastian Shaw and the Sentinel connection was something that never felt adequately addressed in any X-Book and Fraction does a great job of shedding light on that plot point and how it affected Emma. Plus Emma bags a prince of 70% of the world. The art was beautiful as well, with the flashback scenes rendered perfectly. It's really worth getting, not just as a tie in to Dark Reign but as a wonderful character study. 6 Cs out of 7.

*[ASIDE: Any Selene sighting usually bumps a comic up, because...well she's just that friggin awesome. Marvel, please put more Selene cameos in your books.]*

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

[New Title Pending]: On Female Superheroes or Vaginas Are Not Evil

I was checking out Jezebel and I came across this article, which had a link to another article on Rope of Silicon about why there aren't any successful female hero movies. I was actually talking about a very similar topic just the other day with a couple friends of mine.

We were talking about a potential Batman 3, and who should be the next villain. I'm really championing Catwoman because the first two movies, while excellent, were such a testosterone fest and it would be nice to see Batman go up against a cunning female equal. But they're picking super-obscure male characters (which in fairness sounded cool, but are general unknowns). We were then on the subject of obscure characters when I tossed out the idea of a Batgirl movie, which I'd like to see but I think would never work. To which they responded with "Yeah, who wants to see a chick Batman?" That line irked me, because my point isn't that she's Chick Batman, but because writers wouldn't be able to write or view her as anything other than than Chick Batman.

It really does bother me that I can think of virtually no successful superhero movies with females as developed viable leads. There is something strangely homoerotic about this obsession with male superheroes with big muscles and bigger codpieces. Even though society is so afraid of showing a penis in a major motion picture, there is no problem with having sweaty shirtless guys fight each other to verify their manhood. And there is still an endemic problem with using female characters only to further the male characters' angst (either by killing or raping them).

And it's not like strong female-centered stories can't be written. For example, I can think of Marc Andreyko's Manhunter (which manages to telling a compelling tale of a hard-working prosecutor who doesn't get her hair pulled by some jerk every issue) or Gail Simone's Birds Of Prey (which has women who can kick ass and joke about things that have nothing to do with boys or money or ponies)*.

I mean I am a guy, but sometimes (most times) male writers just have wrongheaded ideas about women. I was a huge fan of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but there were just so many virginal/whore tropes that undercut the idea of a strong female character. Hell, every time sex was brought into the picture, someone died or went evil or got pregnant and gave birth to something evil (which usually ended up killing the woman who bore the thing in the first place). And I saw these same disturbing tropes in his run on Astonishing X-Men. Kitty Pryde actually has sex with Colossus and bang, she's shot out into deep space and probably died (Colossus walks away unscathed). Mr. Whedon, I love your work but vaginas are not evil. I don't see why it's so difficult to have a confident woman who wears spandex and happens to have some nookie on the side.

And don't get me wrong, I loved The Dark Knight Returns, but I had to agree with Thera Pitts, Rachel Dawes was irritatingly underdeveloped. Here was a strong intelligent law-abiding assistant DA who ended up being little more than a casualty/footnote in Batman's crusade against the Joker and Two-Face's blind twisted vengeance. The only other major female character was Anna Ramirez, a tough street-smart cop, who ended up being a(n extremely minor) henchman who gets punched in the face by a man. I don't say this to cry "Sexism!" but it does speak to a major issue at hand about how male writers, directors and artists view women as viable characters.

I would like to see a successful Catwoman movie, or a Storm television miniseries, or yes a Batgirl movie. I guess you could call me a fe-man-ist, but I want to see these characters come to life too and become a successful franchise. I just wish we as a society can move on from our 1960s Batman thinking where women are only good enough to kick high and be untied from train tracks.

*NOTE: Gail Simone is no longer writing Birds of Prey. I lost track of who's writing it now and the book is getting cancelled (sigh!) so I don't know what the fate of the Birds are. But you should grab back issues (I believe it's issues 70 - 110) or buy it in trade.

Monday, January 05, 2009

My City

This week is going to be my last week telemarketing; I haven't told my employers yet but I figured this blog can do it for me. Maybe I can send HR an e-mail saying "Here are the reports, and by the way, have you checked out my blog? Here's the URL. See you, uh, soonish...for paycheck..."

Nah, seriously I will tell them. I'm just trying to stay motivated as I live in what I can only affectionately call "The Frathouse." My room is sub-arctic and my overhead light socket is broken, so I am writing this entry by dim lamp light. I wanted to just go full-on and write by candle-light but I don't know where the fire escape is and I refuse to die in a blaze of poverty.

The sick part is that I like this. This is what real New York Living is like. And also why I have no respect for that new MTV show "The City," another one of those faux-reality shows where bleach-blond girls giggle a lot at the camera and complain about barely getting by, even though they're handed gobs of money and never have to go to work (or do any work once they're in the office). I know I've expressed my dislike for shows like these in the past, but the whole concept of this show is just silly.

Living in New York and wanting to work in media does not involved an automatic lease on an Upper East Side apartment or taking a cab to the gym that's within walking distance. If you have not had a life-or-death battle with vermin, or had to learn a different language to communicate with the super, or seen homeless penis on the subway, then you are not living in New York City. Period. And if you're chasing a dream in New York City, you don't have time to blink rapidly and vapidly at a camera. At best, you have the time to crack open a beer and cry-sturbate while listening to Blur (I'm not saying that's how I spend my weekend, but I took an informal survey and that was the #1 answer).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go take a shower in boiling hot water because the cold knob is broken, step over lead paint chips, and get to bed so I can wake up early and head into a soul-crushing job that I'm leaving soon so I can go pursue my pipe dream. Like a real Manhattanite.