Friday, December 31, 2004

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Let's hope it's a good one, without any the song goes.

Image Hosted by Continuing my highly idiosyncratic and quite personal look at the best of 2004 here on Planet Dave (and thanks to everyone who linked to my comics list), here's a look at films released in anno domini 2004.

Small problem: I didn't see all that many 2004 films. Lack of time and money seriously cuts down on my cinema visits, ensuring that I either rent these films when they come out on home video, or catch them on cable, which means that by the time I get to see 'em, they're not all that current anymore. Anyways, here are the films released this past year that I've seen, according to Movieweb, ranked in order of preference and with star ratings:

Kill Bill Vol. 2 ****1/2:
I quite understand why people might object to this film, and perhaps it's a character shortcoming that I don't share those objections; but I just have a weakness for Tarantino's collage-like homages and tributes to revenge movies, spaghetti westerns, kung-fu flicks, and the like. This one's a bit padded, but it's still full of a lot of clever and impressive scenes, plus serves the worthy goal of rescuing Michael Madsen from late-night Cinemax C-list movie hell. I hope someday to see a combined version of this and Vol.1.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ****:
I don't usually care much for romance/relationship films, but this one's a totally different animal. I was impressed with the excellent performances by the leads and the imaginative script. I wish the direction had been equally as imaginative.

Spider-Man 2 ****
One of those rare sequels that is better than the original, even though I thought it laid the "poor Peter" schtick on too thickly and Tobey McGuire sleep-walked through the film. For my money, the bank robbery/kidnapping of Aunt May scene with Doc Ock was one of the best action sequences in the history of this genre, but most people liked the elevated train sequence, which really strained my disbelief suspension mechanism. Alfred Molina is becoming one of my favorite actors.

Hero ***1/2: Like I said a couple of days ago, absolutely amazing visuals, full of gorgeous color and graceful wire-fu but lacking a bit in the script department. I did like the conceit of linking calligraphy with swordfighting, though.

Tom Dowd & The Language of Music ***1/2:
Fascinating documentary about the late record producer, with whom I was familiar mostly for his work with the Allman Brothers, Black Oak Arkansas and Rod Stewart (1975-76), but actually whose career has virtually encompassed the history of recorded music in the USA, at least since the late 40's anyway. Sometimes they move on when you wish they'd dig deeper, but overall this is great stuff, and Dowd was a likeable guy and engaging commentator.

Disney's Teacher's Pet *** :
Had some time to kill earlier this year, while I was waiting for the afternoon screening of Return of the King, so I thought what the hell- I'll go see this. I had seen the Saturday morning cartoon, so I knew that I'd probably like it. based on the art of Gary Baseman (no pun intended) and scripted with a more adult tone than you'd think, it's clever and fun (especially on a musical number about the 50 states), but kinda runs out of steam before it's over. Still, it's a great visual experience, especially on the large screen- the colors are bold and bright, and Baseman's odd art style works better than you'd think.

Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow ***:
Another visually stunning but empty story-wise film. The plot had holes big enough to drive a truck through, and the resolution was weak, but I flat-out loved the whole look of this movie with its soft-focus evocation of 30's pulp novels and Fleischer Superman cartoons and Metropolis and such. Performances were so-so; Jude Law was OK in a role that didn't ask him to do much (and he does that with aplomb), Gwyneth Paltrow was bland, and actually Angelina Jolie, of all people, gave the best turn with her winking portrayal of Air Squadron leader Franky Cook. I wish with all my heart that someone would do a Doc Savage, Shadow, and/or Justice, Inc./The Avenger film in this style.

Hellboy **1/2:
It's not a very good recommendation of any film when the best thing I can say is "It's not as bad as I feared"- and that was pretty much my reaction to Hellboy. The effects were fine and the makeup was OK (although I thought Perlman looked like a very good Comics Convention costume ball entry), and it kinda-sorta followed its semi-Seeds of Destruction template pretty well...but there were just too many silly and unnecessary changes to the source material (Kroenen becoming a badass mechanical assassin, Hellboy's dopey schoolboy-crush mooning over Liz Sherman, not to mention his being kept in captivity and seclusion, Hulk-like; Abe being portrayed as a C3PO-ish weenie) for this longtime Hellboy fan to thoroughly embrace this. I like Del Toro's work, especially The Devil's Backbone, and I think his heart was in the right place, but he just didn't deliver the groceries this time. Hopefully the inevitable Hellboy 2 will be better, but I won't get my hopes up.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban **1/2:
See the review I wrote a couple of days ago; I can't really think of anything to add.

Van Helsing ** :
Yeah, this was big, dumb, loud and stupid, with a terrible performance from its female lead and its main adversary, and it looked more like a long promo for the latest Universal Studios Theme Park ride- but I actually kinda liked this knuckleheaded update of those old House of... flicks of the 40's. Hugh Jackman was fine as the lead character, the comic relief was kinda comic, mostly, and at least it wasn't dull. Guess this qualifies as a guilty pleasure for me, but I don't really have a burning desire to see it again.

And that's it! I know that there are many excellent films, like The Incredibles, that I haven't been able to view yet- so this list is far too incomplete for me to do a proper "best-of". Next, I'll try to do a music list.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Best Comics of 2004.

The end of the year is nigh...and now, that moment you've all been breathlessly awaiting...


Or, to be precise, the comics that I read in 2004 that I liked the most and/or in most cases were ranked consistently high in my reviews. I freely admit that as always, there were many excellent titles that came out in 2004 that I just didn't pick up on for a myriad of reasons, and therefore can't and won't include. It's my party and I'll cry if I want to. These are listed alphabetically, not in order of preference. So without any further...

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us100 BULLETS by Brian Azzurrello and Eduardo Risso (DC/Vertigo). 100 Bullets floundered early this year, suffering a incoherent story arc and a delay in schedule caused by Azzurrello & Risso's stint on Batman, but then rebounded strongly with an excellent issue 50, and the so-far great "Wylie Runs the Voodoo Down" story arc which advances the underlying Minutemen vs. the Trust plot. 100 Bullets is, in my eyes anyway, a solid title and Risso is an amazingly talented and prolific (nothing to sneer at these days) craftsman.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usCOURTNEY CRUMRIN IN THE TWILIGHT KINGDOM by Ted Naifeh (Oni Press). Another interesting chapter of Ted Naifeh's surly young witch, this time getting her involved with the darker side of the Fairie world, not to mention the darker side of some of her classmates. Naifeh has crafted an intriguing little world for his character, and his moody, angular art style keeps getting better and better.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usHAWAIIAN DICK: THE LAST RESORT by B. Clay Moore, Steven Griffin and Nick Derington (Image). Well, maybe you can resist the combination of witty scripting, gorgeous color, sun & sand, gangsters, private eyes, beautiful girls and ghosts, but I can't. I'm enjoying this second Dick series as much as I did the first one, and unless Moore totally pulls a Meltzer on the ending, I think this will be another keeper.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTHE LEGEND OF WILD MAN FISCHER by Dennis Eichorn, J.P. Williams and others (Top Shelf). Engrossing biocomic on one of the most obscure and oddball people to ever pick up a mike and take the stage. Fischer was one in a million, and this manages to capture his kaleidoscopic eccentricity, while making a strong case for his artistry at the same time. For more from me on this, go here.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTHE LOSERS (DC/Vertigo) by Andy Diggle and Jock. Even though we had to endure three less-than-stellar fill-in issues by inferior artists, The Losers was still excellent whenever Diggle and Jock teamed up. Sharply dialogued and intensely illustrated, full of action, laughs, and excitement, I never feel ripped off when I've finished an issue they collaborate on. I hope it can go on at least long enough for me to put it on this list next year.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usOWLY Vol. 1: THE WAY HOME and THE BITTERSWEET SUMMER by Andy Runton (Top Shelf). I only read this last weekend, so I really haven't had a chance to hold forth on this charming, sweet, and clever (and cleverly illustrated) story about a good-hearted owl and his buddies, two hummingbirds and an earthworm. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, and look forward to many more.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usSAME DIFFERENCE and OTHER STORIES by Derek Kirk Kim (Top Shelf). Hm. I certainly have several Top Shelf books on this list, don't I? Anyway, I have to confess that I'm cheating a bit by including this on my list; I don't own a copy of this collection. Kim published this on his own website for several months prior to its publication, and I read and enjoyed it very much there. Amazon lists the version with this cover as having been released in 2004, so I include it here! One of these days I hope to pick up a copy; in the meantime, take my word for it, whydoncha?

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usSLEEPER SEASONS ONE and TWO by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (DC/Wildstorm). Is this a spy/espionage comic with superheroes, or vice versa? Is this a twisted version of a romance comic, as some have suggested? Yes. Another thing it is is always excellent, and just when you think that you have figured out where it's heading, it will always take another left turn and add another layer of intrigue. As good as it gets for mainstream comics, I think.

URSULA by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba (AiT/PlanetLar). A winningly open-hearted and warm fable about love, fantasy/reality and growing up, written and illustrated with aplomb by the tag-team of Moon and Ba. Buy this for someone you care about- makes an excellent Valentine's Day gift!

Image Hosted by  ImageShack.usWE3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (DC/Vertigo). I underrated issue #1, but by #2 I had re-evaluated my original stance and have come to regard this as one of the most straightforward, powerful and thought-provoking stories this gifted craftsman has ever given us. And of course, Frank Quitely takes full advantage of what he's given, providing inspired visuals like the time-lapse, segmented attack on the soldiers on pages 6 & 7 of #2. Again, #3 hasn't come out yet, but I seriously doubt that there is any Meltzer in Grant Morrison, so I'm not worried. Very gud, as Bandit would say.

...and there are quite a few...

FLIGHT Vol. 1 by various artists (Image).
A veritable plethora of Indie and webcomics artists, including the amazing Vera Brosgol, Clio Chang and Jen Wang do their thing illustrating stories based on the theme of, you guessed it, flight. One to look back on, say, 10 years from now and see where these creators have ended up.

DAREDEVIL by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev (Marvel).
The comic comic bloggers love to hate maintained a solid level of consistency, and while there were a couple of valleys, there were a lot more peaks.

PROMETHEA by Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III and Mick Gray (DC/Wildstorm).
Moore is pulling out all the metaphysical stops as he winds down his (in a lot of ways, I think) most "personal" epic, and he's fortunate to have a gifted artist like J.H. Williams III (ably inked by Mick Gray, as always) to provide brilliant, breathtaking visuals. Probably should have been in the top 10, I suppose; only the convoluted nature of the narrative kept me from putting it there.

DC: THE NEW FRONTIER by Darwyn Cooke (DC).
Another book which just missed the top 10 cut. I flat out love Darwyn Cooke's art style, and this is a fine tribute to the less, shall we say, shades-of-grey type stories and characters that I grew up with. Only some inconsistencies in the script kept me from ranking it higher.

SCURVY DOGS By Andrew Young and Ryan Yount (AiT/PlanetLar).
Absolutely hilarious, nutball, surreal pirate comics. More fun than a barrel of pirates, monkeys, ninjas and robots. I can't remember reading a stranger comic since the halcyon days of the Flaming Carrot.

MY FAITH IN FRANKIE by Mike Carey, Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel (DC/Vertigo)
Fun fantasy-drama about a young lady with her own personal god, who is a bit on the over-protective side. Great, energetic art by Sonny Liew, nicely inked by JB Show fave Marc Hempel.

WARLOCK by Greg Pak and Charlie Adlard (Marvel)
I suppose if you want to be all cynical about it, this is another attempt to re-create an older Marvel character to make him more palatable to movie producers. But this turned out to be more than that- Pak has taken the tired old Starlin version and has reimagined it, while nodding to the 60s and 70s at the same time. Nicely drawn by Charlie Adlard, the Tommy Lee Jones of comics art.

OCEAN by Warren Ellis, Chris Sprouse and Karl Story (DC/Wildstorm)
Deliberate sci-fi with a 2001 feel, with a typically smart and terse Ellis script and outstanding art by another JB Show favorite, Chris Sprouse. Not over yet, so it's possible that Ellis may still jump the shark- but so far so good.

STREET ANGEL by Jim Rugg and Brian Marucca (Slave Labor).
This comic, the current darling of the Comics Blogosphere, made an awful lot of best-of lists...but it's just so all-over-the-place, tone-and-subject-matter-wise, that I couldn't do it. It's still a solid book, well drawn, often clever- but I want to see if Rugg can pick his poison before I start singing louder praises.

PLANETARY by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (DC/Wildstorm)
Actually came out on something resembling a regular schedule this year, and that made me happy. One issue wasn't quite up to par, but the others were excellent as Ellis and Cassaday inexorably crawl towards the eventual resolution. Take your time, gentlemen- I'm willing to wait if this is the result of your deliberation.

JINGLE BELLE by Paul Dini, Jose Garibaldi, Stephanie Gladden, and Jason Bone (Dark Horse)
There have only been two issues out of the four so far this year, but they've been very high-quality. I still can't believe how much more I like Jose Garibaldi's color art than what he's given us previously. An early Christmas present for me!

EIGHTBALL by Dan Clowes (Fantagraphics)
Well, of course we know that only one issue came out this year, #23, and it was as overrated by many as it was underrated by others (me included). Clowes' deadpan style keeps me at arm's length even as he impresses me with his cleverness, but it's this distance that keeps me from embracing #23 as much as I did #22, perhaps one of the best comics published in the last 40 years.

LUCIFER by Mike Carey, Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly, and Dean Ormston (DC/Vertigo)
More valleys than peaks this year, I'm afraid, but overall this is still an impressive run by author Carey. The art, except for one stellar fill-in by Marc Hempel, is competent if not inspired. But I really do like this book, really!

FABLES by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, and others (DC/Vertigo)
I like how Willingham has (and continues to) reimagine these traditional characters, and am always engaged if not always blown away. The art, as with Lucifer, is competent but unexciting.

GOTHAM CENTRAL by Brubaker, Greg Rucka, Mike Lark, Steven Guadiano and others (DC)
The low-key approach this title uses doesn't always make for the most compelling reading, but I'm always rewarded for my effort. Usually always solid, especially when Brubaker scripts. I'll miss Michael Lark on art...I wish Lee Loughridge's ghastly colors would accompany him.

WALKING DEAD by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard (Image)
I've managed to stay interested in this book, even though that's begun to wane a bit as the plot is beginning to spin its wheels. I was sufficiently impressed by this to rate it highly most of the year, so here it is. This being said, I'm dropping it after the next issue.

POWERS V1 and V2 by Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming (Image/Marvel/Icon)
Another interesting year of Powers, along with a publisher switch. Bendis may get more attention for his cranked out Marvel stuff (Daredevil excepted), but I think this is the book he likes to write.

DEMO by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan (AiT/PlanetLar)
Overall very high quality series, even though I liked some issues (#8 (my fave), #'s 3, 4 & 11) more than others (#6, #10), and while I was often very frustrated at the vagueness of many of the scripts, I came away loving Becky Cloonan's chameleon-like art and appreciating this quite honest attempt at doing something different, which never gets old.

PLASTIC MAN by Kyle Baker and Scott Morse (DC)
This is Baker's show, and while I don't really understand why he's bothering (I suppose he's just paying the bills) I was entertained by the issues I read. I wish he wouldn't take such a slapdash approach to his art; it often clashes with the fast and funny approach he's trying to maintain by being sloppy and indistinct. Morse contributed two fill-ins, one fair-to-middling and the other not so hot. I still think the scene in which Superman uses his heat vision to burn President Luthor's belt and cause his trousers to drop off should be canonical.

DAISY KUTTER: THE LAST TRAIN by Kaz Kabuishi (Viper)
This has been an overall fun series, and I like the title character. Sometimes Kaz isn't always 100% successful at combining cartoony fantasy with more down-to-earth subject matter, but that's a difficult trick to pull off even by the greats. This mini is a little pricey, but it's printed on good paper and I don't really feel ripped off.

JOHN CONSTANTINE: HELLBLAZER by Mike Carey, Marcelo Frusin and Leo Manco
All in all, a good year for Carey and ol' Conjob. I'll miss Frusin, who really grew into the character.

B.P.R.D.: PLAGUE OF FROGS by Mike Mignola and Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
These Hellboy spinoffs have been extremely hit-and-miss, but with Mike Mignola scripting and Guy Davis just killing on art, this mini was a winner.

I'll try to do a movie and music best-of list, too, but don't stand on one leg waiting...
Image Hosted by ImageShack.usJust finished the latest non-fiction offering from Ait/PlanetLar, Danielle Henderson's Tales From Fish Camp, which is her recounting of the highlights (and lowlights) of her time spent as a worker in an Alaskan fishing village and processing plant. It's a fascinating glimpse into a world which most of us will never experience, and it's worthwhile reading for that if nothing else. Henderson has a breezy, likeable style, and the book went by fast for me.

Which brings me to the biggest problem- it's a little bit on the slight side. She never really goes into detail on any of her exploits; she's often content to list the highlights of any given event, and disinclined to expound on any of them- and many times I was left wondering about this situation or that person and what led to this or that. I don't know whether she had self-imposed limits on what she wrote, or just didn't want to share more than the surface details, but I was a bit frustrated sometimes. To name but one example, she gets away for a week to take a well-deserved break in Anchorage, during which she re-acquaints herself with many of the creature comforts she'd missed while roughing it at the camp. And oh, by the way, she broke up with her boyfriend while she was there. Huh!?! From her comments early on about him,there didn't seem to be a problem in their relationship, then a few weks later she casually breaks up with him, and mentions it as an aside in the context of a two-page description of her Anchorage vacation. Relationships ending are usually somewhat traumatic, but you'd never know it from this! Characters are introduced, then mentioned again maybe once or twice if at all, and that's a bit distracting as well. I still don't have a good handle on exactly why she decided to take the job, since nothing we knew about her previously indicated that she would want to, other than wanting to test herself, perhaps, and make some money. Again, I'd guess space limitations are to blame, but only Danielle and Larry Young know for sure.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the book- I've always been interested in Alaska, and have always wanted to travel there, and this may be as close as I'll get. Don't know if I'd want to work in a fish processing plant like that (although if they paid enough, who knows...), but now I know a bit more than I did before about it. Tales is a book which can appeal to a wide variety of readers of all ages, and would be ideally suited, I would think, for school libraries and the like. Props to Young and AiT/PlanetLar for choosing to put something unusual like this out.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

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How 'bout a big ol' BSBdG for Alex Chilton, who turns 54 this very day. His work with Big Star, especially #1 Record (which I haven't heard in ages) remains his best, but I'm quite fond of his 1987 solo effort High Priest.

What's that, Paul Westerberg?

Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round
They sing I'm in love. What's that song?
I'm in love with that song.

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Through the auspices of my recent subscription to Netflix, the miracle that is cable TV, and my son (who has pretty good taste in movies sometimes) I've been watching several films lately. I was gonna do longish reviews of each, but life is short and I have other stuff I want to write about this year so I think I'll just do 'em quick 'n' dirty, in order of preference.

Bad Santa: Funniest movie I've seen in quite some time. Well, since Slap Shot, anyway. Had me scared to death that they were going for the cheap Hollywood Life Lesson ending, and they did flirt with it, but fortunately they chickened out before they went there. Billy Bob Thornton is great as the title character, who along with "person of small stature" Tony Cox have a scam going where they knock off department stores dressed as a store Santa and his elf partner. Another great flick from Terry (Crumb, Ghost World) Zwigoff. Lauren Graham is drop dead sexy as a bartender who has a Santa fetish, and takes up with Billy Bob.

Slap Shot: Second funniest film I've seen lately, and another one of those "I can't believe you haven't seen this" movies. Better late than never, I always say. Anyway, the exploits of a minor-league hockey team, with the requisite collection of freaks, geeks, and characters...but there's a nutball spirit running through the whole thing that keeps it loose and always amusing, plus the Hanson Brothers (two of which were real-life brothers and actual hockey players) are just some of the most amazing characters ever to grace the silver screen. They cracked me up, big time. Paul Newman is good, as always, as the player-coach who finds out that his team, the sad-sack Charlestown Chiefs, is going to be sold at the end of the year- and he decides to make the team so competitive that the lady owner won't want to sell the team. Great flick (a little dated, maybe, but it's not a big issue) especially in this hockey-less time, and I'm sorry it took me so long to get around to viewing it.

Big Fish: Tim Burton and co. intend to tug hard on your heart-strings, and succeed with wit and imagination and good performances from Albert Finney and Jessica Lange. His warmest since Ed Wood, and also his best since Sleepy Hollow.

Hero: The breathtaking visuals, full of action, style and especially brilliant color, more than compensate for a somewhat convoluted, Rashomon-like story. Not quite as good as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it has a better ending.

Idiot's Delight: 1939 film which aired on TCM a few weeks ago, starring Clark Gable and Norma Shearer. Gable is an entertainer, traveling with a troupe of blonde beauties in pre-US-WWII-involvement Europe. He encounters old "acquaintance" Shearer, at her most Garbo-esque. Gable sings "Puttin' On The Ritz", and TCM shows us both the domestic ending and the alternate ending, which was made for the overseas market that was already fighting the war. An interesting curio, and Shearer is attractive in a strange way. I wonder if Michael's Movie Palace has covered this one...

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: I liked the darker tone, but found the story needlessly complicated (especially the ending) and continue to wonder why Harry has to go back and live with his abusive Muggle step-parents. To amuse the kiddies with scenes like the one which opens this, in which an annoying great-aunt gets transformed into a balloon, I guess. Gary Oldman was kinda wasted here, I thought.

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco by Sam Jones: I love the innovative, often brilliant music of Jeff Tweedy and his band- especially their excellent 1999 effort Summerteeth, which is, in my opinion, one of the best pop-rock albums ever, troubling lyric content aside. To a lesser extent, I feel the same way about their next release, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the creation of which is the subject of this documentary. It's interesting to witness the steps they have to go through, not to mention the hoops to be jumped, but this entire film is shot in boring, grainy black and white and Tweedy and company for all their brilliance as musicians are virtually this is not exactly a gripping viewing experience. Or at least it wasn't for me, your mileage may vary.

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers: Peter Sellers was a talented, sometimes brilliant presence in many films, but in this too-clever-for-its-own-good biopic he's portrayed as a mean-spirited, emotionally stunted perpetual adolescent with a self-loathing side- hardly conducive to viewer empathy. Geoffrey Rush is outstanding portraying him, but the film can't decide whether it wants to be a Charlie Kaufman-type surreal film experience or a straight-up biography, and the inconsistent tone just sinks it. John Lithgow is very good as Blake Edwards, as is Stanley Tucci as Stanley Kubrick. When I watch things like this, I'm always reminded of the saying (which is almost always true, I've found) "There are two sides to every story, and usually the truth falls somewhere in between".

Men Are Such Fools is another Priscilla Lane film I hadn't seen...and sometimes you win a few, sometimes you lose. You wouldn't think a flick with Priscilla and Humphrey Bogart would be dull, but well, ya never know. Motivated advertising career-gal Lane is torn between her football star husband and a radio exec who takes a personal interest in her. Hugh Herbert is on hand to provide his shtick as well, but this one seemed to take forever to wind up.

Cold Mountain is an episodic wannabe Odyssey-style epic set in the Civil War which is buoyed by some wonderful scenery, strong period flavor, a great performance by Renee (Sigh) Zellweger, and some nice supporting perfomances (Brendan Gleeson as Renee's deserter Pa, Natalie Portman (surprisingly good! She can act! Who knew!?) as a lonely widow). Big problem- there is no chemistry whatsoever between the two leads, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law, and the whole plot hinges on some unlikely coincidences and lazy dramatics (the gang of hoodlums left behind to "guard" Kidman's town when all the other boys have gone to war- you just know they'll become the bad guys). I enjoyed several things about Cold Mountain, but was happy when it was finally over because it was such a slog.

What! No Beer? was a depressingly flat Buster Keaton film, from late in his career when his drinking had become a problem. An alleged comedy about partners who start a brewery at the end of Prohibition, it's dominated by the endless mugging of Jimmy Durante. I think I laughed three times. Nothing worse than flat beer.

Monday, December 27, 2004

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What I bought and what I thought, week of December 22, better late than never!

Wow-inducing finale to the story of how the Losers came to find themselves in their current predicament, full of action, drama, pathos, lively dialogue, and sharp art which doesn't let up until the very end, when we get a revelation that I should have seen coming but surprised me just the same. The buzz has sadly died down around the blogosphere about this book, and that's a shame because it has rebounded nicely from the lackluster fill-ins and is as good as it's ever been, in my own humble opinion. So naturally, next issue we get a fill-in. Such is life. A

More of Holden Carver twisting on his hook, illustrated with aplomb, as usual, by Sean Phillips. One of the two hook-holders, Tao, sends our boy and his crew on a mission which doesn't go as planned, of course, and has unexpected repercussions for Carver and his plight. What was it I said a while ago? "Consistently consistent in its consistent excellence". A

Again, two stories: First one deals with a young writer who is searching for the truth behind the legend of Santa's daughter, based on a childhood encounter he barely remembers; it's bittersweet, funny in places and very well illustrated by Jose Garabaldi, who's really doing excellent work right now. Second story is about a Christmas party, with unwanted coyote guests, at the Mutant, Texas bar, and while it's kinda routine it is wonderfully illustrated by Jason Bone, who's one of my favorites right now. This year's miniseries is really shaping up to be a winner. A

Richard (Gore) Corben gets the spotlight, and he does not disappoint. Corben's got a highly idiosyncratic style that most people either love or hate; me, I kinda fall (typically) somewhere in between. I like the fact that he has a recognizable style and knows how to tell a story very well, but there's a quirky cartoonishness about his art that sometimes sits uneasily with the subject matter he's depicting. If you're a fan of Corben's from his Warren and underground days, you'll love this; the first three stories are somewhat tamer than the stuff he used to give us in the likes of Death Rattle, but are pretty darn close, and the Spectre story that closes out the book is kinda routine, story-wise (John Arcudi scripts), but is nicely done artwise, especially when Corben shows Jim Corrigan conversing with the spirits of the dead. All in all, not a bad little showcase. B+

Grant Morrison's giving us a wonderfully gnarly, light-hearted superhero story, but the Ed McGuinness/Dexter Vines art team is rendering it nigh-incomprehensible with their needlessly showy and cluttered art. I know we can't all be Frank Quitely, but geez- help a reader out once in a while, willya? Once again, the cutie-pie Squire steals the show- the powers that be at DC should consider letting Grant do a one-shot featuring her one of these days. B
Well, hello there!

Hope everybody had a great X-mas. I know I said I'd post some stuff this weekend back on Friday, but I got kinda lazy and sorta unofficially took a little break. So now I'm more behinder than ever before. Hopefully, I'll get my comics reviews posted tonight, or at least before I buy new comics on Wednesday. And SPEAKING of's my projected haul according to the new Diamond shipping list:


More later, including what Santa brought.

Friday, December 24, 2004

From all of me to all of you...

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Guess this will be it for today and probably tomorrow...I'll try to get new comics reviews posted no later than Monday, and maybe even a couple more of those posts I mentioned yesterday.

Here's wishing you the hap-hap-happiest holiday since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye!
Image Hosted by ImageShack.usSorry to drop the f-bomb on you on Christmas Eve, but FUCKING HELL. They've cancelled one of my favorite TV shows, Dead Like Me. I had been considering dropping Showtime anyway, since I have Netflix and they had released season one on DVD, leading me to think they would release each season thereafter...and now my mind's made up. I make the call Monday.

Dead Like Me was one of the most clever and often affecting shows I've ever seen, and season two was just as good as season one. I was looking forward to season three, especially after the somewhat ambiguous ending of this year's last episode, and now it will be forever unresolved. This just sucks.
Oh, the weather outside is it's time for your holiday edition of JOHNNY B's FEARLESS NFL PIGSKIN PROGNOSTICATIONS!

MINNESOTA over Green Bay
KANSAS CITY over Oakland
TENNESSEE over Denver
CINCINNATI over the NY Giants
DETROIT over Chicago
NEW ORLEANS over Atlanta (No Vick or Crumpler, plus the Falcons have already clinched their seeding. Hope I'm wrong, just like last week)
PITTSBURGH over Baltimore
NY JETS over New England (statement game for the Jets)
BUFFALO over San Francisco
CAROLINA over Tampa Bay
WASHINGTON over Dallas
SEATTLE over Arizona
MIAMI over Cleveland

Last week, a disappointing 8-8. Season to date: 137-87, .612.

Fantasy: lost 106-54 in the first round of the playoffs. I remain alive, though, and play this weekend for 5th thru 8th place.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usWhen Atomeka's Hero Squared was announced, I was very interested- I've always been a fan of the J.M. Dematties-Keith Giffen Bwah-Ha-Ha Justice League, and they're responsible for this as well. And truth be told, if you loved their Justice League,you'll like this too- it's full of the same witty repartee and sly (and some not-so-sly) jokes they brought to bear back in the day, as well as their recent miniseries return to the characters, Formerly Known As The Justice League.

It's the story of a slacker who is suddenly confronted with a bigger, more cut-and-buffed version of himself who just happens to wear a costume and possess super-powers. Apparently this super guy is from another, parallel world and is our slacker as he should have been, but didn't become on our world due to circumstances. Anyway, the super-guy, Captain Valor by name, needs help- his own world has been completely destroyed by a evil, powerful conqueror who has followed him to "our" world, and will destroy it too unless he can somehow get his alternate self powered up and team with him. The identity of the bad guy, revealed at the end, also provides a funny twist (but to be honest, I saw it coming early).

The JMD/KG bwah-ha-ha style is a plus, it's also a bit of a minus as well because they don't really do anything all that new; they play a lot of familiar riffs and it's definitely preaching to the converted. The Big Bad of this issue could easily be Mister Nebula; his toady could be L-Ron- they have the same dynamic. It's also very talky; if I was the letterer I'd ask for a higher page rate, preferably by the word. The art, by newcomer (to me, anyway) Joe Abraham, isn't bad; he has a style that reminds me a bit of Kevin Maguire (or maybe that's the JMD/KG influence there), but with a more modern, manga-flavored feel. I understand that this is reproduced from the pencils- I didn't notice it until I read it somewhere else later. Looks like it has been heavily Photoshopped, probably by colorist Matt Nelson, whose bright color palette I kinda liked. Abrahams' stuff still has some rough edges, but I like it overall.

Hero Squared is a lot of fun- it reminds me a bit of a mid/late-90's project that Kevin Maguire was involved with, Strikeback! for some reason. I don't think this book is going to change the industry or anything, but it's an entertaining read and I hope to see more soon. You can access a 12 page preview right here at Comic Book Resources.
Time now for part two of the "Music I've Picked Up Lately" post. And it goes like this:
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Neil Young- Greatest Hits
Young's been threatening to issue a big multi-disc retrospective for years now, especially since the last twenty-six years have rendered his Decade somewhat obsolete- but this usual-suspects sampler sure isn't it. With only two songs from post-1978 included, and no liner notes bearing track information, and bearing only Young's desultory disclaimer "Greatest hits inclusion based on original record sales, airplay, and known download history." giving us any rationale whatsoever for the track listing, this is, to say the least, a far from complete compendium of his lengthy, innovative, resonant, and often willfully frustrating career. Even the "greatest hits" tag is a misnomer, since Young has troubled the top 20 only once in his career, and the top 40 only one or two times more...but geez Louise: it's got "Down by The River", "Ohio", "Only Love Can Break Your Heart", "Old Man", "Cowgirl in the Sand", and that's just a few of the excellent and well-known-to-all-classic-rock-radio-devotees tracks, so this is also far from a ripoff. On the negative side, there's nothing from superior 70's albums like On The Beach, Tonight's The Night, Time Fades Away, Zuma, or Hawks & Doves or any of his squirrely 80's Geffen output- hardly surprising, since none of these albums were anything resembling "hits" even though many of them were among the best albums of all time. Of course, nitpicking artist compilations is one of the easiest endeavors known to man, so if you're completely unfamiliar with Young's work, and you are looking for a place to start, this is as good a place as any. There's a neato bonus DVD which has pictures, videos for the charming "Harvest Moon" and the goofy "Rockin' in the Free World", and the clever conceit of being able to listen to each album track as you watch the visual of a vinyl record, complete with the appropriate label, spinning on a turntable- a visceral thrill known to a select, ever shrinking few in these benighted times.

Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon-Various Artists
Well, you had to know this was coming sooner or later, and for what it is it isn't terrible. No big surprises among those paying tribute, unless you consider Adam Sandler mugging his way through "Werewolves of London" (and sounding a lot like WZ in the process) surprising. Zevon had a ornery streak in his lyrics, but this collection kinda skims over that side of his stuff to focus on Zevon the wounded love man, so we get covers of the likes of "Searching For A Heart", "Keep Me in Your Heart", and "Reconsider Me", and that's not really fair. Still, Steve Earle does a great version of "Reconsider", Jill Sobule sounds winsome as always on a fine, poppy "Don't Let Us Get Sick", Pete Yorn (a singer I've never really paid much attention to, although I think I'd like his stuff if I made the effort) rescues "Splendid Isolation" from what I consider to be his worst album, Transverse City, giving it a fine run-through, Billy Bob Thornton doesn't suck, the Pixies shine, and wonder of wonders, we get a David Lindley/El Rayo-X comeback of sorts on a fine Mutineer track, "Monkey Wash Donkey Rinse". Disappointments include a typically croaky and underrecorded Bob Dylan cover of the title track from Mutineer, one of my favorite WZ albums, and a routine run-through of "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" by Jackson Browne (Zevon bud but I've never been a fan) and Bonnie Raitt, or at least the credits say she's on it 'cause I can barely hear her. Overall, a fine, if mostly bland tribute- myself, I think that Zevon deserved something with a bit more roughage.

The Jethro Tull Christmas Album
In which Ian Anderson and Co. re-record a handful of older Tull Christmas-related songs, rearrange a few seasonal standards, and generally deliver a solid holiday-themed collection of songs, despite too-slick production. Features a clever instrumental version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", and some typically whimsical liner notes by Anderson, who's always been a little too smart for the room and was never afraid to remind you. Don't really know what else to say about it; it won't exactly take you back to the Benefit days, but it's better than the last few studio releases I've heard.

Elliot Smith-From A Basement On A Hill
I only own one Smith CD, XO, and I kinda liked it- it was a low-key, unassuming collection of pop-folk songs which often sported a decent melody or two- listenable but forgettable. My son liked him better than I did, so he went out and picked this up a while back and I gave it a few spins. And y'know what? This is a low-key, unassuming collection of pop-folk songs with a bit more electric guitar this time. I didn't hate it, but I am completely unencumbered by any compulsion to buy it for myself.

Ray Charles-Genius Loves Company
The last thing Charles was working on before he passed, and as celebrity duet albums go it's not too bad. The instrumentation (with one particularly noticeable exception) is kept pretty basic- piano, bass, guitar, some horns and a smattering of strings. Charles is not always in good voice, but holds his own nicely with the likes of Norah Jones (pretty good), Elton John, who never met a duet album he didn't want to be on but unfortunately they chose his weepy "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word"; James Taylor, on his own composition "Sweet Potato Pie", relaxed and smooth; Bonnie Raitt, who really should have done a whole album with Ray; and Van Morrison, upon whom Charles was a huge influence, on Morrison's "Crazy Love". Not the most inspired choice for a song, but they do it nicely. Really, the only clunker is a overblown version of "It Was a Very Good Year" with Willie Nelson, in which they struggle to be heard among the excessive orchestral arrangement. Again, not a CD I would buy with my own money, but I'm happy to have it just the same...and your mileage may vary.

Various Artists- Power of Soul: A Tribute To Jimi Hendrix
Lotsa artists, including Prince, Santana, Eric Clapton, Bootsy Collins and Sting, covering Hendrix songs to varying degrees of effectiveness. Lenny Kravitz, who's made a career of imitating Jimi, contributes a version of "(Have You Ever Been to) Electric Ladyland" that sounds surprisingly like Al Green. Prince typically re-casts the blues "Red House" as "Purple House", and Santana uses former Living Colour singer Corey Glover as his vocalist. Sting should have just had them stick his cover of "Little Wing", from ...Nothing Like The Sun on this instead of his boring take on "The Wind Cries Mary". There are some interesting performances by others including John Lee Hooker and a live take on "Little Wing" by the late Stevie Ray Vaughn. Another album I don't think I'll listen to very often, but I'm content to have it in the stack if the mood strikes me.

Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra-Friends 3
Since Squeeze faded into the margins, Holland has kinda become like Britain's version of David Letterman and Paul Shaeffer rolled into one, and he's released three albums of songs performed by a multitude of artists on his Later... show. This, the latest one, has a lot of interesting folks on it that you don't always see on projects like this, such as Eliza Carthy, Nick Cave, Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan. And then there's the ubituquous Eric Clapton, Ringo, Michael McDonald, and Steve Earle, who seems to be working on his own Elton John-like guest vocalist career. All the songs kinda have a samey sound, kinda like performers do when they appear with Shaeffer's group on Letterman, and not surprisingly the blues artists like Buddy Guy and Terri Walker sound most comfortable. And when all is said and done, Holland is as good on the keys as he ever was. Another mixed bag, worth a listen or two.

And that's it! With that prior post, a list of music I've received and purchased lately. Hopefully I'll be getting some more interesting stuff for Christmas, and I'll try to write about it before the Fourth of July.
Everybody's talkin' 'bout the Newsarama Grant Morrison interview and the announcement that the mad Scotsman and his faithful boy wonder Frank Quitely will be doing a version of Superman. Now, if you've been paying attention over the course of the last two years, you'll recall that I'm not really, nor have I ever been a big fan of the Man of Steel, not even in the 60s or 70s when I was young and impressionable. I tend to like Supes in one-shots or limited series such as Superman: Red Son or Superman For All Seasons, or as a guest star in JLA as the like. Heck, other than a couple of years back in the 70s, when I was buying Action Comics for the Human Target, Atom and Green Arrow back-up features, I've never bought a Superman comic on anything resembling a regular basis.

So what I'm leading up to is that I think I'll just have to get this All-Star Superman. How can I not? Wait, don't answer that.
I am so behind in writing stuff that I don't know if I'll ever catch up. I've got at least 4 longish posts in the "draft" stage, and I can't seem to get the time and the wherewithal to finish them, hence my publication of Tuesday's incomplete music post. I'm not giving up, though, so eventually they'll all see the light of your computer screen. Eventually. Hopefully before they're so old they're completely irrelevant.

In the meantime, go here to check out Time magazine's best and worst comics of 2004 list. Typically, uncultured infidel heathen that I am, I've only read two of them, and that's counting the Locas stories I've read in Love & Rockets. The other is, of course, Eightball 23, as you can tell from my Blogger profile picture.

Mo' stuff (bryter) layta...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Image Hosted by Through a combination of the generosity of others and imprudent purchases on my part, I've acquired, or at least heard, a number of new CDs lately, and here are some quick impressions for all of youse:

David Bowie-Heathen
Quite simply the best Bowie record in over 20 years. I had frankly given up on the possibility that he had any worthwhile music left in him; every new release was accompanied by "Bowie is Back" hype, and every new release from 1980 on was disappointing at best, with one or two good tracks and a lot of conflicted-sounding mediocrity. In my opinion, of course. Apparently Mr. B came to the realization that he was embarrassing himself by latching on to the likes of Trent Reznor and Billy Corgan in what seemed to be an attempt to stay "hip", and after a tentative beginning with ...hours he has bounced back in a large way with this album. He hasn't sounded this relaxed, innovative or focused in ages, and I gotta believe that his old Eno-trilogy days producer Tony Visconti had a lot to do with it. The opening track, "Sunday", sounds like Robert Fripp playing with Manfred Mann's Earth Band; the Pixies cover "Cactus" sounds like Eno producing Chuck Berry. "Slow Burn" is a reflective reminisce with an arrangement that reminds me of "Life on Mars?" for some reason. He does a great, swaggering cover of Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting For You" (a great song from his obscure debut solo album) complete with glam-star oohs and aahs in the BV's; and songs like "5:15 The Angels have Gone" and "Everyone Says 'Hi'" benefit from nice synth-and-string arrangements. Dave is in fine voice throughout, and it shows how much he's learned since the 70s. I passed on this when it came out in 2002; I had given up on him. Now, I'm thinking I need to pick up a copy of the follow-up, last year's Reality. Color me impressed.

Liz Phair-Liz Phair: Finally broke down and bought this, and I can see why its detractors were all worked up...emulating the Ashlees and Avrils of the music world seems hardly a fitting ambition for the erstwhile Indie darling. The melodies are obvious and the lyrics are shallow when they're not forgettable. But I guess she has bills to pay like everyone else, and while this is produced to distraction there are several catchy songs like "Why Can't I" (I still get a charge out of that video, which you can access on her website) and "Extraordinary". So while I realize that I probably shouldn't, I still find this more listenable than Whip-Smart. Go figure.

John Lennon-Acoustic:
Fortunately, I was sent this one, because I would never have bought this for myself...I already own the 1998 John Lennon Anthology from which nine of these tracks were taken, and while I am as hardcore a Beatle fan as you'd ever want to meet, more often as not I get a little bored by the unadorned solo acoustic demos I've heard. Still, there are a few of them that are pretty good, such as a doo-wopish "God" and 1974's "What You Got", and the live tracks here aren't bad either. I would have preferred to have some liner notes and track info inside the booklet instead of guitar tabs, but nobody asked me. Not essential, but as a Fab fan I'm happy to have it just the same.

John Lennon-Rock 'n' Roll
Wrote about this one a little over a year ago, in a Vinyl-O. It's been remixed and re-released, and as with last year's remixed Mind Games, it sounds better, punchier and louder anyway... but the remixers took liberties once again. There's an extra "one, two" before the "a-well..." in John's cover of "Be-Bop-A-Lula", which kicks off the album, which means that some sort of alternate vocal track was used, or perhaps the count-in was restored, whatever the reason, it's not welcome as far as I'm concerned. If John had wanted it on there, it would have been on the 1975 vinyl release. Plus, they also take it upon themselves to clean up John's signature mid-70's muddy mix, which didn't really favor the vocal or the instruments, but kept them all in a sort of consistent midrange- very distinctive, and much liked by yours truly. As with the organ fills on the 2003 "Mind Games", it's disconcerting to suddenly hear a guitar lick or organ riff that was buried in Lennon's original mix. Anyway, the revisionism isn't as egregious on this one as it was on Mind Games, so this remains listenable. It's a very inconsistent album, but the good songs are very good, and it's still nice to have it on CD now. See my review, link above, for more.

Macy Gray-The Id
I bought and enjoyed Gray's debut CD On How Life Is very much, but I was slow to pick up this, her 2001 follow-up, mostly because of lukewarm reviews. Kinda sorry I waited so long because it's a solid retro-soul effort, not as good as her debut, but often more imaginative, especially arrangement-wise. Of course, how much you enjoy Gray depends a lot on how much tolerance you have for her voice, which reminds one of the love child of Sly Stone and Carol Channing. On almost every cut Macy proclaims what a "freak" she is about sex, and her determined freak flag-flying becomes a little tiresome after a while, but it's not really that much of a negative. She alternates between Sly and Clinton-style funk rock on cuts like "My Nutmeg Phantasy" (that's the song she performed in the first Spider-Man flick, remember?) and big Aretha-style ballads like the flop single "Sweet Baby", which benefits from a gorgeous string arrangement. We also get the charmingly titled "Gimme All Your Lovin' or I'll Kill You", which is still catchy and the weirdest song on the CD "Oblivion", which sounds like a all-synth German polka band and would have been a dandy track for Grace Jones. There are a couple of duds, but mostly The Id is an underrated little album.

Todd Rundgren-Liars
Surprisingly strong set from Todd, reminiscent of albums like Nearly Human, alternating soul ballads with synth-pop/rock. Rundgren is another artist I had kinda given up on, and it's reassuring to know that he's still got some juice left. One quibble- nearly every song is too damn long by at least a minute and a half, and a couple just go on and on and on and wear out their welcome. I especially like the album's final title track, in which he shouts himself hoarse at the Bush administration. Get'im, Todd!

Longtime favorite album of mine, which features Carlos Santana's first forays into Miles and Coltrane territory. Of course, when I was 12 and first heard this, I knew nothing about Miles or Coltrane; I just loved the whole exotic feel of this album. Features "Song of the Wind", one of the best guitar jams he's ever recorded. Santana had two future founding members of Journey in his group at the time, believe it or not...!

The Mahavishnu Orchestra-Birds of Fire
Back in the 80's, I made a tentative stab at appreciating fusion jazz, and this was one of the first albums I bought, mostly because I liked the cover. I found it chaotic, tuneless and aimless, and soon gave up trying to get into it. I sold this album to a friend, and haven't had a copy of it since. However, I've recently begun to start listening to jazz again, and my enjoyment of some of Miles and Coltrane's more outre recordings has made me think I should try Mahavishnu again, hence my purchase of this on CD. I've also picked up a few more Mahavishnu CDs, liked them OK- my original estimation still holds, but I'm now hearing some things I like that I didn't hear before, so I suppose that's progress. On this particular CD, I love the title track- a surging, crashing, almost King Crimson-like instrumental- the most, and I'm kind of hot and cold on everything else. I haven't listened to this one as much as I have the others I've obtained recently, so the jury is still out.

There are more, but I've been plugging away at this for a couple of days now and I'm ready to publish what I have. I'll probably be adding to this later on, so this is part one...
A little food for thought from Why Christmas Should Be More Commercial.

It is at this point where I should state for the record that I do not necessarily subscribe to this particular viewpoint, but facts are facts and I found this interesting just the same.
Tis the season for contests, apparently- over at Progressive Ruin, Mike Sterling is giving away trade collections of the first six Diggle/Brecchia issues of DC's latest Swamp Thing revival. Hie thee to his place to find out how you can win one!

Monday, December 20, 2004

While trying to put that godawful Identity Crisis finale out of my mind, here's what I'm getting Wednesday, per the new Diamond shipping list.


Looks like a light stack; I may pick up Solo #2 just to keep the run going because I'm sure I'll be getting #3. I see where Bipolar #5 is out as well; I don't recall seeing copies at my comics shop but if I do I'll be tempted to get that one as well.
ADD's got an interesting list of upcoming graphic novels in 2005. You should go check it out. Really.

Among the many listed, I was most pleased to see that the long-awaited Top 10 GN The 49ers is on the schedule. Bluesman looks interesting, as does Top Shelf's new Owly book (I got the first one Saturday, and I intend to write about it, as part of a LONG post about recent comics I've read, very soon) and, of course, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World Vol. 2.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

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What I bought and what I thought, week of December 15!

Ellis isn't trying to reinvent the wheel here; it's a straightforward Sci-Fi tale in a somewhat novel setting, with his trademark tersity and some interesting received concepts interspersed between. It is moving slowly, but it's slow in that 2001: A Space Odyssey way rather than any desire to pad for the trade. This time out, we find out more about the other corporate-sponsored crew called "Doors" that's involved in the mystery on Jupiter's moon Europa- they share a collective programmed mind that would be the envy of the Bush cabinet, and the highlight here was the exchange between Nathan Kane and the fellow in charge of the Doors ship (crystal, perhaps?). Best of all, we get another full issue of excellent Chris Sprouse/Karl Story art...Sprouse deserves more recognition and acclaim for his skills than he gets. A

Well, even though my inner Scrooge bristles at paying $3.50 for such a story-light publication, with its one-panel ten-page spread, I still enjoyed what has to be the loopiest comic I've read since The Amazing Screw-On Head. If we've got to have something like this, then at least we get a full issue of that wonderful Geoff Darrow's been too long since The Big Guy came out. Don't know where this is going, if anywhere, and it just may be a well-drawn goof...but I was entertained this time out, and hopefully he won't have the Cowboy scavenging through dumpsters three issues on. A-

Another month, another moody, talky, dramatic installment of Daredevil. Fortunately, I'm interested in where Bendis is going with this, and still enjoy his verbosity, so I'm inclined to like. But this arc is really moving at a snail's pace, and I'm getting restless. Hopefully the new White Tiger will bust in next issue, save DD's ass, and we can move on. Artwise, solid as usual from Mr. Maleev, but someone needs to tell him that Daredevil didn't wear his yellow costume when he first faced the Gladiator. A-

Bendis' other book is advancing its plot a bit more rapidly, thank goodness, while juggling the three ongoing plotlines quite deftly. Got a chuckle or two from the Walker-Calista exchange as they were watching the latter's latest escapade as Retro Girl. There were a couple of times where artist Mike Avon Oeming didn't convey the action as clearly as I would have liked, specifically the aforementioned Retro Girl-Magnetic Fields Fucko tilt...but he was otherwise solid as usual. A-

Another title which is taking an inordinate amount of time to get to its point. I can't imagine why anyone who isn't familiar with the previous 56 issues' worth of continuity would want to start buying this now, unless they were prepared to buy all the trades and get caught up. That's not my problem, though- I've been here for a while now and I've invested myself enough by now to still be interested in what happens next. So when I tell you that Lilith, mother of the Lilim, has defeated Lucifer's right-hand person Mazikeen with the aid of some Clive Barker rejects who travel around in an extradimensional sentient house and intend to enlist the Lilim to war on Heaven, which is open for a free-for-all because of God's abdication, and think that the title character is powerless and incapacitated but is actually consolidating his power to combat them with help from the formerly half-angel half mortal now all-godlike Elaine Walker...just nod, smile, and humor me, OK? It's wrapped in a spectacular Mike Kaluta cover, y'know... A-

Status quo here, too- another pinball-like script with fine characterization and wryly humorous tone by Joe Kelly, excellently illustrated by the Mahnke/Nguyen team. The Elite team is undercover, trying to bust some kind of freaky interdimensional drug dealers or whatnot, and run afoul of the JSA. Of course, since they're in deep cover, the JSA have no idea, and thus we have the conflict. No real surprises, but if you've been following this book there are a couple of interesting revelations about a couple of the cast members. A-

Even though this appears to be derivative of about a half dozen different authors and stories, this still manages to be readable, and writer Jason Hall gets in some not-so-subtle social commentary while he's at it. Besides, what isn't derivative, at least a little bit, these days. I've never been a fan of the art of John Watkiss in the past; he has a sloppy, odd, angular style which reminds me of, oh, Mike Vosburg or Brent Anderson inked by Gerry Talaoc using a paint brush, and it just isn't very pleasing to my eye. But to give him his due, he does a solid job of telling the story here, and made this a lot more interesting, I think, than many artists would have. So while I'm not completely won over, I think I'll continue to pick this up. B+

Plas and Co. get mixed up with the "Book of Ftthpthktksk", a forbidden magical tome of which there are only three known copies and which is presumably responsible for the deaths of two people, thanks to a cultist who is looking for all the copies. Loose, frenetic, frequently funny (most of the good jokes, again, are at the expense of the government and its Patriot Act), but sloppily drawn by Kyle Baker, who needs to be taken aside and reminded, discreetly, that cartoon art looks more satisfying and is easier to read with some sort of defining line, and the darker the better. Baker consistently has color on color, with no definition, and it makes this very difficult to follow sometimes, almost as if a printing plate has been left out or something. B-



I've read comics series that started promisingly, then devolved into sludge before they were over. I've read some that got better as the series progressed, and ended satisfactorily. I've read some that were just bad from start to finish. But I can't recall very many that started so promisingly, kept my interest throughout, then completely crashed and burned like this one. For six issues, Brad Meltzer juggled at least three different plotlines, and never really gave us very many concrete clues to the identity, if you will, of Sue Dibny's murderer- which left me (and more than a few other folks) very curious. I was prepared for almost anything, even disappointment, but nothing prepared me for the real thing- a resolution as contrived and as illogical as anything I've ever encountered in any sort of fiction, illustrated or otherwise. So now we're expected to believe that Jean Loring, who, in the last significant addition to the Atom-ic canon, shunned Ray's superheroics, to the point of cheating on him and divorcing him, now wants him back, and wants him back so badly that she concocts a plot by which she steals her ex's super-suit, shrinks down and enters Sue's head, and not-so-accidentally kills her, in order to teach all the spandex guys a lesson and win back her now-desirable-again former spouse? Like Judy Tenuta used to say all the time- "YEAH- THAT COULD HAPPEN!". Then Palmer has her locked away in ARKHAM? Without due process, or anything? The other, non-Sue's murderer related plotlines, like the mindwiping of Batman and Dr Light? Forgettaboutit- not relevant. Unless you consider the Flash's discomfort around Batman a significant character development. The business with Captain Boomerang's son? Oh, we'll see that in the next multi-issue crossover money grab, don't you worry, along with the further tribulations of the Atom as he hides in shame. Since this is now apparently a 7-issue prequel to the next big whatever it completely invalidates and makes everything in it irrelevant, and if it's possible to do a grievous disservice to a fictional character, then the Dibnys (not to mention Ray Palmer and Jean Loring) have been severely wronged, along with all of us who shelled out our twentysomething bucks, thinking we would get a challenging mystery with an equally challenging finale. Ha, how naive we must seem. In all fairness, as with the previous six issues, there are some nice character moments, including Superman with his Ma, Batman at his parent's grave, and the Flash-Green Arrow discussion at the Watchtower. And Rags Morales did a fine job throughout on art- although he occasionally gave us a odd or inappropriate facial expression or three, he still has a dynamic and exciting style, and he seems to have busted his ass on this series. Which makes this total botch job even more of a pity, and don't think I won't remember next time DC foists something like this on us. D+
Here's another contest of a different sort, actually more of a fund drive: Legion of Bloggers Named Dave member Dave Carter over at Yet Another Comics Blog has offered to match donations to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for first time donators.

It's a worthy cause, and if you read it here, check out Dave C's offer, and donate, I'll feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I myself have never donated, and probably can't afford $25 what with the holidays here and all that, but I think I could go $10 anyway...
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What say we take time now for another round of JOHNNY B'S FEARLESS NFL PIGSKIN PROGNOSTICATIONS!

First, the standard disclaimer: These picks are FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY. I'm not betting illegally with these, and NEITHER SHOULD YOU...and I take no responsibility if you lose your house.

OK, today's games:

PITTSBURGH over the NY Giants- Eli Manning continues to thrash about in the deep end.
WASHINGTON over San Fransisco
CAROLINA over Atlanta- This is where I hope I go 15-1 this week...I'll still pull for my guys, but Carolina has everything to play for and have been white-hot lately, and the Falcons have already clinched their division, plus, they've got some injuries to key people.

NY JETS over Seattle
SAN DIEGO over Cleveland
DETROIT over Minnesota (Mike Tice, so long)
BUFFALO over Cincinnati
CHICAGO over Houston
DENVER over Kansas City
ARIZONA over St. Louis
TAMPA BAY over New Orleans
GREEN BAY over Jacksonville
TENNESSEE over Oakland
INDIANAPOLIS over Baltimore
NEW ENGLAND over Miami

Last week: 12-4. Season to date: 129-79, a .620 winning percentage.

Fantasy: My sorry inaugural season in the Cut-Throat Football League has come to an end with a 36-26 loss, leaving me with a record of 5-9, good for last place and (possibly) 1st pick in next year's draft.

Yahoo league: Won 75-58, finished the regular season at 8-6, good for a 4th place tie (12-team league) and a berth in the playoffs.

Friday, December 17, 2004

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Johanna's running a contest, the grand prize being the Owly trade, and the runners-up getting mini-comics featuring the cute l'il fella. All you gotta do is email her your version of a cute owl. Whether or not you need to draw it yourself or just send her a pic of what you think is a cute owl is kinda unclear.

Myself, I didn't get Owly; it looks kinda fun, but I don't think my comics shop got a copy in and I haven't been moved to try to order it online. I'll put it in that ever-expanding list of "comics to get...someday" along with Blankets, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, Mother Come Home, and Temporary: Cubes and Ladders (actually, I had my shop order that one for me last Wednesday).

Oh, by the way- click on the cute Owly pic above to visit the website of creator Andy Runton.
If you've got some time to kill, you GOTTA check this site out: CulturePulp: Writings and Comics by M.E. Russell! Words fail me. As usual.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

A meme from Jen Contino:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don't search around and look for the "coolest" book you can find. Do what's actually next to you.

Suddenly all of the other people in the room are exchanging those amused looks again.
CRYPTONOMICON-Neal Stephenson (Yes, I'm trying to read it. Checked it out from the library, but I haven't had any time to read lately...)
I'll say more later when I review this week's comics purchases, but I'd just like to state for the record that believe Identity Crisis 7 is one of the biggest botched conclusions in the history of illustrated fiction. Top five, at least. God, what a mess- it's like Brad Meltzer, who had kept his cards pretty close to his vest for the previous six issues, suddenly decided to hell with it, tossed the cards out the window, and left the game. Doesn't anybody know how to end anything anymore?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usDC's put out its March solicits, and like every other Comics blogger worth his or her salt, I'll run down a list of things that hath caught mine eye. First, the weird cover for GREEN ARROW 48, at left, by the incredible James Jean. Talk about pearls and swine (and no, I'm not saying that GA readers are swine)- why in the world is an artist with such a refined and imaginative style doing covers for Green fricking Arrow, for goodness sakes? Typically, though, Jean makes it very memorable- the oddball cowboy robot GA's riding is an old villain from the Batman and the Outsiders days called the (get ready for it) "Duke of Oil" (ouch), and he was pretty forgettable...but Jean gives this hokey character an almost W.W. Denslow look, to my eyes anyway. Will I buy this? Shyeaaah, right.

Moving down the list:

That BATMAN: COVER TO COVER a coffee-table hardcover collection of Batman covers over the years, looks interesting but is too pricey for me. Maybe someday.

Snazzy new B&W Dave Mazzuchelli cover on BATMAN: YEAR ONE DELUXE EDITION HC -- NEW EDITION, which reminds me yet again that right now I don't own a copy of either Batman: Year 1 or The Dark Knight returns since I sold 3/4 of my original collection back in 1987. I've been eyeballing trades of both, so maybe one of these days...

Will someone tell me what happens in BIRDS OF PREY #80? It's supposed to be one of the "most talked-about comics of the year"...but I don't intend to buy it to find out what's going on.

DC COUNTDOWN #1: 80 pages for $1? What the-? I'm not wild about the creators involved, but the inner fanboy in me is intrigued.

DOOM PATROL #10 features the "startling origin of "Grunt". I wonder if Mexican food is involved?

THE HUMAN RACE #1 looks like another slip-between-the-cracks series. At least it's solicited as a 7-issue miniseries.

SEVEN SOLDIERS continues with: GUARDIAN #1, with Cameron Stewart art, always a plus, and SHINING KNIGHT #1 with art by one Simone Bianchi, whose stuff reminds me a bit of a retro cross between John Buscema and Neal Adams...and no, he's not Frank Brunner! I plan to be picking these up, 'cause I'm interested in what I've read about Seven Soldiers.

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<br />ImageShack.usA title I've been looking forward to for a while now, Jason Pearson and Ed Brubaker's THE RAZOR'S EDGE: REDBIRD #1 (right) is coming out this month.

FINALLY, Paul Pope's 100% TP is set to be released. I flat out loved 100%, but the only issue to come out since I started blogging was the last one, #5, so you've been spared what I'm sure would have been paragraph after paragraph of raving. 100% was one of the best series to come out this decade so far, certainly one of the best things DC's ever published, and if you haven't read it I strongly encourage you to lay down the coin and pick this up. Even with my anorexic bank account, I'm considering getting it for the extras.

I'm not really a fan of Phil Jiminez, but his OTHERWORLD #1 sounds intriguing. I might wait for the trade on this one.

The best thing about the solicit for THE LOSERS #22 is that there will BE a THE LOSERS #22. Same goes for PLASTIC MAN #15.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usFinally, I don't buy THE WITCHING anymore, but God love 'er, Tara MacPherson keeps giving us those amazing covers. Heck, I might pick up the trade, if there is one, just to see if it got any better.

Hm...done already. Guess there's just not all that much coming from DC in March that grabs me, with a few exceptions. Ces't la vie, I'm sure they'll do just fine just the same.

Check out this new comic by Jen Wang: Double Happiness Wedding!

Also, while you're checking out stuff, check out the Year-end round table discussion over at Comic Book Galaxy- a group of creators, writers and reviewers hold forth about the best and worst of 2004. and it's mighty interesting. I suppose I'll try to do a best-of list at some point in the next couple of weeks, if I can get the opportunity...
Let's take a quick peek into my future via the Diamond shipping list!

POWERS V2 7 (my shop didn't get it last week, so it will probably show up this week, I hope)
SHAOLIN COWBOY #1 (If it comes in, and if I remembered to add it to my pull list...)

And that's that!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

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What I bought and what I thought, week of December 8!

100 BULLETS 56
I still think this arc is overextended, necessitated by the inevitable trade collection I suppose, but it's really kicking into high gear now as all the characters (except for poor Gabriel) are drawn closer together and we find out some interesting stuff about Wylie Tymes' past life as a Minuteman, especially his relationship with Agent Shepherd. The most Tarantino-esque chapter yet, and Eduardo Risso is, as always, amazing. A

Wow, 12 issues already. My, how time flies. Anyway, in this final issue we get two stories- first one featuring poesy by Brian Wood, with Becky Cloonan doing a superb job of bringing out the lyricism in Wood's verse, and featuring that series staple: the by-now requisite vague, unsatisfying ending. Story two features Wood art and Cloonan script, and catches us up with two characters from very early on, and provides closure of, yes, a vaguely unsatisfying sort. DEMO was very much a rollercoaster ride for me- sometimes fascinating, sometimes offputting, but I'm happy I took the trip, if nothing else but to be introduced to Cloonan's art. She wore many hats during these twelve issues, and pulled them all off in smashing fashion nearly every time. So...where do we go from here? This issue: A-. Entire series: B+.

Bill Willingham continues to advance his plot slowly, showing us how the principals are adjusting to their new roles, setting up what must surely be the next big storyline involving Boy Blue, Bluebeard's missing assets, and the introduction of a new character who seems to be similar in function to Santa Claus is Coming to Town's Winter Warlock and makes a surprising claim. As always, I'm interested in where he's going with all this, enough to overlook the game but unexciting art of Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha. A-

Brubaker takes one more pass at Catwoman, and gets Josie Mac involved as well in part one of what promises to be a pretty good two-issue story. I'm not so fond of the Jason Alexander art (who knew that George Costanza could draw?), which is not terrible but is inked in a fashion that makes regular inker Steven Guadiano look like Terry Austin. Perspective is good, figure drawing fine, staging too...but those black blotches all over everything are just annoying and once again Loughridge's colors make the whole thing even murkier. Nice cover by Mike Lark, who will be missed. B+

Writer John Arcudi will always earn slack from me for Major Bummer, but to be honest I haven't been all that crazy about any of his other subsequent projects, and this is no exception. One misses Mignola's deadpan absurdist humor, Roger the homonculous is once again mis-characterized, and this new zombie Captain guy seems only to have been introduced to be a jerk and give Liz someone to argue with. But, as a longtime Hellboy reader (and I'd imagine newcomers would have trouble with all the unexplained events from previous stories), I am interested in what's going on with Abe Sapiens, the business in the basement of the BPRD HQ with Johann the Ghost Bag, and kinda like the way Arcudi's writing I can give this a pass so far. What makes this mini worthwhile, though, is the excellent art of Guy Davis, who's just brilliant these days. B+

Another so-so story enlivened by above-average art. This whole thing is reminiscent of one of those straight-to-cable flicks that end up on Cinemax late at night, usually starring Shannon Tweed or Traci Lords or some washed-up male athlete or film star taking whatever he can to prolong his career. Characterization is fine, the mystery is decent if not particularly compelling, dialogue is better than last issue's but still scans awkwardly. I'm still loving Shawn Martinbrough's lively and expressionistic art, which reminds me a little of Jerry Grandenetti (one reason why I think I like it so much)- all full of sharp angles and deep shadows, but I wish he'd been given a better story with more sympathetic coloring. Maybe next time. B-

Not in my holds this week, but I think that may have been store error: Powers V2 7. I'll pick it up next chance I get.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

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I've been working diligently to complete this article I'm writing (in case Sean is reading this), in between Christmas shopping and decorating and the ULPJ...and haven't had any time, really, to blog. But I did watch tonight's Warren Ellis-scripted Justice League Unlimited eppy tonight, and found it very entertaining and even educational in places. Lotsa cool hero cameos, from Stargirl to Vixen (kinda winced at seeing Sgt. Rock in the background), Batman got a good joke in as he was plummeting to Earth after the big bugs ate his plane...

...and HOLY SHIT, did Wonder Woman put the Atom IN BETWEEN HER BOOBS!?!?! Oh my God, now the Atom can't be the Identity Crisis killer cause he is now officially the COOLEST DC CHARACTER EVER!

And I'll bet Ellis wrote him a quip when that happened that someone edited out...and am I the only one that would like to see Ellis take a crack at the JLA book after Busiek gets done with it?

OK, back to the other thing, which I'll tell you all about as soon as it comes to fruition cause I don't want to count my chickens, as the saying goes. Comics reviews tomorrow or Monday- cause I haven't read all of them yet...
Image Hosted by ImageShack.usTime once again for the ongoing saga of JOHNNY B'S FEARLESS NFL PIGSKIN PROGNOSTICATIONS!
Not trying to rub it in on you Seahawks fans out there (and I know there are at least two of you)...but in the freebie Yahoo fantasy football league, I had been searching for a 2nd RB to go with Shaun Alexander all season long until Julius Jones' emergence in Dallas. I was able to pick him up from the free agent pool after his Thanksgiving game, and my playoff prospects look a shade rosier now. So I honor him by spotlighting is picture. I still can't stand the Cowboys, but I can root for Jones a little, I suppose!

OK, predictions:

ATLANTA over Oakland- Three weeks ago, this would have been a lead-pipe lock, now the Raiders' offense has come to life, and Atlanta's is like the Cheshire Cat- disappearing when you least expect it. IF they can score, they should win, and I give them a shaky nod at home.

BALTIMORE over the NY Giants- What has happened to the Ravens' defense! Ugh!

BUFFALO over Cleveland- Somebody throw some water on the red-hot Bills.

DALLAS over New Orleans- Go, Julius Jones!

INDIANAPOLIS over Houston- Will Manning set the record? He just might.

JACKSONVILLE over Chicago- I like the Bears, who play tough, but I take the Jag-wires at home.

MINNESOTA over Seattle- Even in the best of times, the 'Hawks don't play well on the road. The disappointment continues for the Seahawk faithful.

NEW ENGLAND over Cincinnati- The Bengals have become an offensive juggernaut, but I think Belichick can slow them down without too much difficulty

DENVER over Miami- Denver needs this worse than the Dolphins do.

PITTSBURGH over the NY Jets- I give the Steelers the nod at home in the best game of the week.

GREEN BAY over Detroit- The Pack will bounce back from last week's embarrassment.

ARIZONA over San Fransisco- I like the Cards at home against a Niners team that's playing out the string.

CAROLINA over St. Louis- Just like Buffalo, Carolina is smokin', and they shouldn't have too much trouble with the underacheiving Rams with Chrystal Chandelier at QB (That's Chris Chandler, for you non-Falcon fans)

SAN DIEGO over Tampa Bay- The Chargers have a chance to help my Falcons out, and while it will be tough, I think they can pull out a close one.

PHILADELPHIA over Washington- The Eagles shouldn't have too much trouble here, even though the Skinnies finally found their offense last Sunday.

TENNESSEE over Kansas City- Pee-yew, what an ugly Monday night game!

Last week: 12-4. Season: 117-75, .609.

Fantasy: Cutthroat Money League: lost 65-14 (ouch). Record- 5-8, tied for 4th in a four team division. Looking good for a high draft pick next year, though!

Yahoo: Won 78-70, record: 7-6, tied for 4th in a 12-team league and clinched a playoff berth.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

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Just wanted to observe that today is the 24th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon. Yasurakani nemure, John.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Back to the subject of Bob Haney, if I may, the redoubtable Fred Hembeck has posted a nice overview, in his obit for Haney, of a fondly remembered issue of The Brave and the Bold, in which Batman and Sgt. Rock teamed up with...Haney and Aparo! It's the December 6 entry, Fred doesn't do the permalink thing. That issue was right in the middle of the time when my B&B interest was at its peak, and I actually had several letters or one-line team-up suggestions printed in the letters columns of that time. Bangin' 'em out on my old manual typewriter, I was! I wrote a lot of LoC's (as we used to call 'em) on a lot of comics and had a few printed here and there- but Murray Boltinoff, God bless him, was the one person who I could depend to pop me in the lettercol on something resembling a regular basis. In fact, in this issue, I got the entire letter column to myself, thanks to the publisher's statement!

OK, enough reminiscing. Back to work. Sigh.
Time once again for a glimpse into my future via the new Diamond shipping list!

100 BULLETS #56
DEMO #12

And that, as they say, is that! Kinda wish I'd known more about Temporary: Cubes and Ladders, which kinda looks interesting- sort of a less benign Dilbert- but it's due out tomorrow, so it's a wee bit too late to add it to my pull list now...and I strongly doubt my comics shop wil get a rack copy, since it's one of those kind (cf. non-Marvel, DC or Image) of books. Even though there have been reviews posted here and there around the Blogospheriverse, it didn't sink in until today. Oh well, guess it will join the likes of Blankets, Mother Come Home, and Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life in the "books to get...someday..." pile.