Monday, October 22, 2007

Two is Better

These men understood it... two is better than one!! Scroll down and you'll see not one, but two reviews for your reading pleasure! What's the occasion, do you ask? Well, it's almost a week since my first post, and since it took me so long to write one, I decided to add a bonus second review at no extra charge! I'm off to Philadelphia this week, I wish I could say I was off to some 'Con for some exclusive news, but it'll be family that keeps me away from my computer this week. Hopefully I'll have something ready to go as soon as I get back, so there won't be many delays from now on. Until then, take the wise words of the above men to heart, and come back next time!

Unknown No Longer

In the never-ending quest to find out whether or not big-budget comic book companies should bother shelling out the extra green for big-name authors continues as we take a look at the first issue of Jonathan Lethem's miniseries Omega: The Unknown. For Lethem, author of the New York Times bestseller Fortress of Solitude, this is his first jaunt into the world of comic writing, following in the footsteps of Eric Jerome Dickey (Storm) and Jodi Picoult (Wonder Woman). Unlike his predecessors, Lethem seems to have a passion for his subject, though few others did.

The original Omega the Unknown was a Marvel release from 1976-1977 and only lasted 10 issues before being canceled due to poor sales. It told the story of James-Michael Starling, a gifted 12-year-old boy who apparently had a superhero as a guardian angel. That hero, Omega, would always appear whenever the boy was in danger, though we never found out in that ten issue run what their connection was. Although it was canceled and didn't do very well sales-wise, apparently the comic had a small cult following, of which Jonathan Lethem was an supposed member.

Fast forward to 2007, and the first issue of the new miniseries is released. It opens in a forest at night as the titular Omega is camping near an abandoned cabin. As he prepares the fire and cooks his dinner (two ducks or swans from the look of it) three robotic figures are checking out a space ship that appears to have crash-landed in the area. Whether the ship that crashed is theirs or Omegas is yet to be explained. The robots track Omega down, there's a brief scuffle, a nice opening monologue by Omega speaking to himself before he's struck from behind by one of the 'bots. Then the whole comic gets kinda... bad.

After Omega is rendered unconscious, 14-year-old Alexander awakes from his nightmares, which are apparently common. His parents, to whom he refers as Rupert and Lydia, come in and check up on him. This is where the comic gets not just weird, but painful to read. The dialogue is so clammy, so... uptight. These people don't talk like you and me. It's understandable for Alexander, who we realize is -- say it with me, people -- "gifted," but his parents have no excuse. They're supposed to be "normal" but they don't talk like it. They certainly don't talk like normal Pennsylvania suburbanites. The dialogue isn't all bad. When told he's a teenager now, and doesn't need to refer to kids his age as "children," he responds: "I'm fourteen years old, yes. But teenager, if I've understood correctly, is a social role." Who among us hasn't felt like that? We're old enough, but feel like we don't truly belong with any of the others. And, when told by Lydia that learning social behaviors might be fun (what high school did she go to?) he miserably responds "The more often you use that word, the less I believe you." It's pretty good, but doesn't last long.

After a near-collision with a gas tanker runs Alexander and his parents off the road the day after his most recent nightmare, Alexander is surprised to see the decapitated head of his mother lying next to him on the ground outside their crashed vehicle (guess Alex wasn't wearing his safely belt) and even more surprised when it speaks to him. This is all before he blacks out and we're mercifully devoid of him speaking for several pages.

However, this only serves to introduce another "meh" character, known at first as "Mr. Kansur" and after a few minutes we're revealed his superhero avatar, The Mink. The Mink?? Anyway, the Mink is a self-obsessed glory-hound, the type of person who is famous for being famous. He's called to the scene of the accident by the New Jersey Police (Alex and his 'rents were traveling to NYC at the time of the accident, this probably took place on the Jersey Turnpike) to check out the decapitated, android head of Lydia. Fascinated, the Mink hooks Lydia's head up to a car battery to see if that would get it running, I guess, and succeeds in melting all the fabricated skin and muscle tissue off the head before the metallic head itself blackens and burns up. Before he takes off he learns the fate of the surviving Alexander (in a coma at the hospital) and has someone keep an eye on him, in case he's as interesting as his parents were.

At Colombia Presbyterian Hospital, Alex is deep in his coma, with a young nurse named Edie Fallinger. She's new and, as of this point, the only person who seems to care for this comatose boy lying in a hospital bed for seemingly no reason. It doesn't take long, but he does eventually wake... which coincides with the forgotten hero Omega's escape from his robotic captors. Somehow, seemingly feeling the direction he must go, Omega hitchhikes his way to New York City... towards this boy he's supposedly sworn to protect.

Let's get down to it. Omega: The Unknown is confusing. It's a world of glory-hogging superheros, corrupt police, uncaring medical establishments, and occasionally searing kindness. It's got bad dialogue, so-so art by Farel Dalrymple (Pop Gun War; Yeah, I never heard of it, either), and an unbelievable situation in which the good nurse takes Alex into her life (somehow I believe Social Services would have something to say about that) The best parts are where Omega makes his appearance, never saying a word, just fighting for this boy who resembles a younger him. And when Alex starts exhibiting powers... well, the idea doesn't seem to stem very far from the ideas expressed in the 70's run.

Omega: the Unknown is not good. Having picked up the first issue, it might be the natural response of many readers to never ever pick up the subsequent issues. This is just a vanity piece by a bestselling author, and Lethem still can't pull it off correctly. Marvel only agreed to put this bunch together because they did the math and Jonathan Lethem = $$$. Even if the comic does poorly, it's only a 10 issue miniseries so it's not a lot of money out of Marvel's pocket; plus the trade release will almost certainly be an indie fan's wet dream.

I never read the original Omega. Now, thanks to Marvel and Lethem, I never want to.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Come Get Some!

Way back in 1981, a hero was born. With an inimitable swagger and a chainsaw for an arm, Ash Williams (a.k.a. Bruce Campbell, uber-hero to geeks everywhere) tore a legendary run through three movies and four video games and left us such memorable lines as:

"Gimme some sugar, baby."

"THIS... is my BOOM-stick!"

and my personal favorite:

"Shop smart... Shop S-Mart."

And now the legend is back, not doing a sequel to the great Bubba Ho-Tep, but instead diving headlong into the Marvel-ous world of comic superheroes. And to top it off, he's going to face down Earth's mightiest cannibals!

It's Marvel Zombies vs. the Army of Darkness!

Released in September, the hardcover of MZvtAD collects issues 1-5 of the limited series. It's a dark day in this universe, as the skies open up and a man from another dimension falls from the sky... and lands in a dumpster. This is our hero Ash, and he's back from a short jaunt into the afterlife for reasons he can't quite remember.

Ash quickly realizes that this isn't his home dimension as he emerges from the alleyway to discover a superhero battle between a "guy using a construction tool of mass destruction as an artificial appendage" and an "idiot in the Beelzebub bodysuit." But before Ash can enter the fray, an old friend appears. It's the Necronomicon, book of the dead, speaking through a possessed bag lady. She tells him that this world is about to end, that "an Army of the Dead will rise."

Naturally, Ash doesn't much like the idea. So after helping Thunderball defeat Daredevil (like most of us, he doesn't quite realize who are the good and bad guys in a new universe) and discovering that the whole planet is full of superheros and supervillains, he seeks out the best of the best to enlist their efforts. This takes him to Avengers Mansion, where he's greeted rather coldly by the team, which includes some of the greatest Avengers of all time: Colonel America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel. and... Luke Cage? This is Luke Cage as in the yellow-shirt-and-tiara-wearing Luke Cage, not the bad-ass everyman Luke Cage that we're used to these days. Avengers regulations must have been pretty lax in that universe. (Spoiler! Kinda...) Maybe that's why things didn't go so well for them.

They treat Ash's story pretty lightly (it doesn't help that he introduced himself by blasting the gate intercom with his "boom-stick" to get their attention) and one Wanda Maximoff transportation spell later, Ash finds himself in a Central Park pond. Mere seconds after his transportation, pink lightning blasts from the sky, and Ash knows that it's all starting. He runs into the streets, yelling to the already panicked masses that the best thing they could do now is run home and kiss their asses goodbye. (sheez, with heroes like this, who needs Dock Ock?) This naturally leads to the introduction of another hero, Spider-Man, tying up Ash in webbing (odd he doesn't gag him too) and about to take him to be dropped off at the local P.D. when Ash recounts to him what got him sent to this universe. Apparently, he had been about to walk through the Pearly Gates (he was told he couldn't bring his chainsaw and shotgun in with him) when suddenly blood sprayed everywhere, and Ash turns to see a superhero crouched over a heaping pile of bodies. After determining a shotgun blast to the chest had no discernible effect, Ash was blasted into this universe.

Just as he finishes telling this story, they turn a corner and see that this same superhero has now joined Ash in this universe and made mincemeat out of the recently very much alive Avengers. It is in fact the Sentry, or at least a zombified version of him, and this is especially relevant because this is the first instance in the Marvel Zombies continuity where it has been specifically stated that Patient Zero of this zombie strain was Robert Reynolds. When this universe was first introduced in Ultimate Fantastic Four issues 21-23, the initial infector looked more like a zombie Superman, spit-curl and all. Obviously this wouldn't fly as long as DC still makes money, so it had been universally accepted that it was in fact the Sentry. But this is the first confirmation of it.

And the dead begin to rise. Colonel America, then Black Widow and eventually the whole Avengers team begin to reanimate, and New York City is officially screwed. Spider-Man and Ash stay just long enough to rescue one woman trapped cornered in the street, but it's one nanosecond too long, as Colonel America uses the opportunity to put the bite on Spidey. The two still escape, but After Peter Parker abandons Ash to check in on his family (as detailed in the one-shot Marvel Zombies, Dead Days) Ash is joined by a guy named Frank.

"Uh, what do they call you anyway, other than Frank?"

"The Punisher."

"Ugh... of course they do."

(They actually used his logo in that scene when he spoke his name; I tried and tried but couldn't find that exact image to do a true quote; I assure you it would've been more bad-ass that way)

After ditching Punisher and taking a good amount of guns and ammo on the way, Ash is just about to write off all the heroes in this universe when he suddenly turns a corner and sees Winter "Bucky" Soldier trying to take a bite out of former X-Man, permanent Marvel G-list superhero Dazzler. After saving her, Ash makes sure to check long and hard for zombie bites.

This is a general theme. The only characters that Ash hangs with (and that Ash WANTS to hang with him) are the ladies. Especially the ones in the zero-gravity spandex. Before too long Ash, Dazzler and Scarlet Witch (so sorry about not believing Ash now) are searching for the Necronomicon, which Ash is sure is the cause of, and perhaps the cure to, this now-global epidemic. This takes them first to Sorcerer Supeme Stephen Strange's sanctum sanctorum ("What's that? Some kinda super-hero tongue twister?"), and eventually to the kingdom of Latveria, where humanity's last hope is a despot named Doctor Doom.

This book is borderline great. It's got great artwork by Fabiano Neves (Xena, Warrior Princess; at least for the first 3 issues) and the writing by John Layman (House of M: Fantastic Four, Xena) is good if not great; there are holes and inconsistencies in the plot that a better writer wouldn't have missed. There are great humor scenes including (but not limited to) the Blob being chased by a column of zombified heroes, an interrogation of magical tomes in Dr. Strange's library, a zombified Power Pack appearance which leads to "a purely superfluous cameo featuring nextwave five pirate super heroes who get ruthlessly dispatched off-panel mere moments from now, in the most humiliating and degrading ways imaginable," "Sorry, Ash, there's no such thing as a 'Quinjet mile-high club -- and if you don't take your hand off my knee, I'm going to break it off," and a superb scene in which, upon meeting Doctor Doom, "Miss Maximoff, kindly inform your associate that I am the absolute monarch and lord of Latveria, and if he addresses me again as 'Yo, Threpio,' 'Hey, Tin Man,' or 'Domo arigato, Mister Roboto,' I will remove his head from his body." Ash is personalized perfectly, right on line with his Army of Darkness characterization. It even has a great twist at the end.

Unfortunately, like I said before, the art quality only goes through issue 3. I don't know what Neves was doing, but artwork was taken over in issues 4 and 5 by Fernando Blanco (Strangers) and Sean Phillips (Black Widow, Marvel Zombies), and while they aren't BAD, they're certainly not as good as Neves. When Ash disguises himself in a Doombot armor, it comes off terribly. It's striking... one minute there's fantastic artwork; The next, it's drab.

The best part, though, is the return of Arthur Suydam. He continues to reproduce excellent covers based on former Marvel title covers, only zombified. His work is nothing short of spectacular, and each cover is in the back of the book, just waiting for you to check it out.

And you should! This is a great series for people who loved either Marvel Zombies or the Army of Darkness series (or both!) and you should at least check it out at your local Barnes and Noble while it's still on display (it comes plastic-wrapped, but just ask a bookseller if you can open it up to take a look). It's well worth owning.

After I get back from Philadelphia I should be posting on a more punctual timeline, hopefully you'll find this review more than makes up for the time it took to get a second review out! I'll see you next week!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ducks and Super Women!

Every once in a while, a comic comes out that makes us think “Hey, I didn’t know that Marvel owned that license.” With 3 blockbuster movies released, most people would think of those when asked about the Blade franchise, neglecting the fact that the titular half-human, half-vampire made his debut in the US way back in 1973 in the comic Tomb of Dracula #10. Based on the recent Blade comic series being canceled after 12 issues, it’s safe to say that most people still didn’t know Marvel owned Blade’s rights.

Which brings us to another forgotten gem of Marvel, one as storied and legendary as the Fantastic Four, Avengers, and Incredible Hulk. I speak of course, of Howard the Duck.


Our first ever review here at The Latest Issue is none other than Howard the Duck #1, written by Ty Templeton (Spiderman/Human Torch) and drawn by Juan Bobillo (She-Hulk). Now, I know you’re thinking: “Gianni, why on EARTH would you purchase Howard the @%$%#@ Duck??” The answer? I didn’t. My good friend Elmo, recently released from his position of middling importance at our sister publication Stevereads (right here on Blogspot), came to me with a bag of comics that Steve felt he had no need for anymore. Never mind he just wrote a deep, focused review on a dictionary, he apparently has no practical use for Elmo or his comics, so we here at The Latest Issue get to bring you what he won’t.

To catch up, Howard briefly appeared in the Marvel one-shot “Choosing Sides” during the whole Civil War “thing”, as he and his “adorable but mostly hairless” companion Beverly Switzler went to register Howard’s “superhero identity.” This resulted in Howard discovering that S.H.I.E.L.D. (and therefore the entire U.S. government) has a policy that the “duck-man” of Cleveland does, in fact, not exist. This means that Howard does not have to pay taxes, parking tickets or the like. He’s quite pleased.

Howard the Duck #1 opens with a dream sequence, with Howard playing cards in what can only be described as Foxwoods on a weekday. He’s at a poker table with such notable Marvel monsters as Man-Thing, Yeti, Frankenstein, and - in a shot at the Fantastic Four - Ben “The Thing” Grimm. Waking up after Frankenstein bursts into flames, Howard finds himself in no more envious a position, waking up in the back seat of his cab.

While it’s moving.

“So we can score this as a bad way to wake up. This could be a kidnapping, or mortal danger or something. If I was more awake, I’d have turned my head by now.

“Hmm. Beverly is driving. So it’s mortal danger after all.”

Apparently, Howard wouldn’t wake up in time for Beverly to make it to the dress rehersal of her new show, The Oldest Story, so she decided to simply plop him in his cab and she would drive until either they got there, or he woke up. Thankfully, he woke up before “a truck hits us, since, ya know... you don’t know how to DRIVE!” We learn that Beverly is focusing on her acting career, which to this point includes only a Super Bowl commercial in which she has one line (“Come here, stud.”) before falling out of a blimp when a fat man farts. Sounds better than some of the Super Bowl commercials I’ve been forced to sit through lately. Anyhow, Beverly is so proud of it she’s even has this new catchphrase as the ring tone on her phone. Howard is less than impressed, as not only does he not see her current accomplishments as any sort of “career” but he realizes upon their arrival at the dress rehersal (he calls it an “UN-dress rehersal, Bev -- I’ve seen the two-ounce costume they gave ya”) that she in fact managed to ding his cab while she was at the wheel.

After the duo arrive, they are approached by Lance Pierce, apparently a famous stage director who has seen Bev’s Super Bowl commercial (apparently only Howard was unimpressed with the ad) and wants her to be the lead in his new play, “Dip Thong.” It’s only after Beverly takes his card and heads into the theater that our boy Lance realizes that standing next to him is a talking duck.

“Astounding what you notice when the half-naked woman leaves.”

If you haven’t noticed by now, what’s really great about Howard the Duck is the dialogue. Howard rambles in some instances, but many of his monologues and the dialogue between characters is pure gold. While listening to the radio in his cab a talk show host rants on about the evils of Tony Stark, and Howard perfectly mutters “Yadda, yadda, Stark is bad, Cap was good. NEXT!” Another host wants to talk about REAL heroes, like the “Great Lakes Champions,“ known to a few readers as the former Great Lakes Avengers. Only in Cleveland.

About halfway through the book, a couple of game hunters come home from a failure of a duck hunting trip. The Twin Barrels, as they call themselves, exit Grand Central Train Station and hail a cab, moaning about how poorly their hunting trip went, how they’ll never bag that duck trophy. Guess who’s cab they manage to get.

The book is not without it’s faults. Besides Howard’s meandering monologues, the art is almost TOO cartoonish. Bobillo’s art looked good on She Hulk, but he definately does better work drawing monsters than humans. The proportions don’t always seem to match. For instance, sometimes Beverly looks pretty damn good, other times, “frumpy” might be putting it nicely. He seems to like drawing Howard the most, not surprising since he’s the main character. But a little more consistency with the other characters would do well in the future. Speaking of Howard and Beverly, it’s never really explained WHY they’re together. My retinas flare up every time I think of the George Lucas crap-fest from the 80’s, so Howard’s backstory isn’t too well known to me. I’m sure most of you feel similar. Howard obviously cares for Bev (even if he doesn’t always show it well) but I can’t imagine why she would be with him. Maybe it’s Cleveland. However, their relationship is pretty much a mystery for anyone who doesn’t know about their past.

I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but it includes riffs on gun and hunting laws, college-theater bashing, retching about how there’s no REAL heroes anymore, a new giant-headed A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) creation called M.O.D.O.T. (Mental Organism Desaigned Only for Talking), crude sexual references (theater is art, folks), mannequins used as weapons, and even Beverly’s cell phone jingle has a say in the end. There’s a lot to like in this first issue, but casual comic fans might be turned off by the fact that this is a Marvel story that doesn’t need the Marvel Universe to make sense. If Marvel didn’t own Howard, it would be an indie hit. Since Stan’s company does own the title, though, don’t be surprised if Captain Rectitude makes an appearance sometime in the future.

It’s a fun read. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t. It’s not all there yet, but give these guys a couple of issues to get started, and we may really have a real good series on our hands, instead of some good issues.

Our second review will be none other than the woman who wishes she was Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel. The run on Ms. Marvel has been pretty good lately, as in the current storyline has Carol Danvers not only leading America’s greatest heroes, the Avengers, but she is also in charge of her very own S.H.I.E.L.D. strike team, codename Lightning Storm. This team’s roster was at first manned only by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, but after a recent mission in which one was killed and another severely injured, Ms. Marvel asked deputy chief Maria Hill for superhero replacements, straight out of the Initiative’s ranks. The answer? Rick Sheridan, who has an alien parasite in his head named Sleepwalker who comes out when he sleeps; and Aaron Stack, the android formerly known as Machine Man.

The best part of these new characters is that Stack is not portrayed as the purple Machine Man from his early days with the Avengers. He is Nextwave’s Aaron Stack, an alchoholic, foul-mouthed bastard who’s never above insulting his enemies (or his allies for that matter) and takes great pride in his violent encounters. His dialogue is always top notch, with many memorable quotes from the last few issues of Ms. Marvel being among the best written lines in comic history.

“Now then! I wish to drink heavily and investigate the worthiness of this craft’s floors for laying about unconsc...”

“I am NOT impressed with YOUR ship. My previous ship had five TESSERACT ZONES. YOU don’t have ANY tesseract zones.”

“My old ship also had a mini fridge. Do YOU have a mini fridge?”

“Google is your friend.”

“I was trying to irritate you.”

“Hello. I am Aaron Stack. The fleshy thing is Sleepwalker. We are super heroes.”

Comic gold.

Ms. Marvel #20 opens with our heroes in a precarious situation. The rest of Lightning Storm has been placed in a small Chilean village, where they have confronted and for the time being beaten Ms. Marvel’s old sidekick, Arana. Apparently, Arana has been brainwashed by the Puppet Master, who has been using a special clay found in Chile to create new statuettes with which to ply his trade. It seems his latest game is slave trade, as he has control over the minds of dozens of women (a few of them super-powered) with intent to sell them to the highest bidder. To these ends, he’s also brainwashed members of the Chilean Army, who carry out the kidnappings. And now he’s added Ms. Marvel to his collection.

Actually, this doesn’t last long. Not long after he takes control of her mind, SOMETHING happens. It’s really tough to figure out. She turns blue, and another voice takes over her body, if only for a second. After this, Marvel returns to normal, and, free of her mind control, proceeds to chase the VERY surprised Puppet Master through his villa. Immediately, Marvel sees the multitude of women Puppet Master has under his control and pretty much freaks out. She’s about ready to beat him to a pulp when he reveals the ace up his sleeve. This is followed by a fantastic fight scene between Ms. Marvel and former Young Avenger, Stature. The fight is quick, but effectively put together, including one bit where Stature throws a house at Marvel, who enters through a window, rescues the poor slob sitting on the toilet as this was all happening (Didn’t he hear the commotion outside? Must’ve been a huge dump) and all in one motion knock Stature senseless.

The story is well written, even if the twist at the end (anyone who remembers what Wonder Woman went through about a few years ago with Maxwell Lord can guess where this is going) isn’t Brian Reed’s (New Avengers: Illuminati) best work. The art work by Greg Tocchini is good if not great, but the fight scenes stand out and it’s obvious this is where his strength lies.

With the current cast of characters, solid writing and art, this is a title that people should be checking out on a regular basis. Even if you don’t LOVE Ms. M, I dare you to read a line of Aaron Stack’s dialogue in the last few issues and not crack up, just a little. It’s an enjoyable title, and Marvel has got to be hoping that soon Ms. Marvel will be right up there with the FF and the Avengers as one of it’s flagship titles. I fully endorse it.

That’s it for now! I want to thank everyone who’s reading the first posting of The Latest Issue, I’m real excited to be here on Blogspot, and I’m always game for any suggestions on titles I might review for future issues! Hopefully by the end of the week I’ll release my next post, focusing on two guilty pleasures I know you all can enjoy. Here’s a hint: boom stick.

See you then!