Saturday, August 30, 2008

High-Tech Tomorrow: Review of the Concentrator, Part One, By Johnathan

Hey there, friends - it's time for another review-as-voted-on! Looking way back to Adventure Comics No. 321, we're going to have a look at the fearsome Concentrator, mua-ha. I think, though, that this is one of those times that it's better to look at the whole issue, rather than extracting bits of it for humourous out-of-context ridicule. I estimate... three entries, maybe? And this is a three-day weekend! Keep tuning in to see if I can manage to meet my own very easy deadline! (Ha ha ha! It's Monday already: I fail!)

We join the Legion on page two:

Man, I sure do wish that Phantom Girl had remained all ghostly and pigment-free - just imagine how much weirder her string of peek-a-boo uniforms would have been if the cloth and her exposed bits were all the same colour. Also, think of the savings on ink! Im sure that by now we'd have seen a Phantom Girl and the Phantom Squad, Featuring Phantom Ape miniseries or something, if only because of the rising cost of little pink dots.

"Who is this stranger with Bouncing Boy's haircut, clothes and voice? Dammit, I told you not to let just anyone wander in here! Now, where's my chair? No, that's not it. No, my chair was facing the other way, so that can't be it! Also, this isn't the cactus that was here before - that cactus was shorter!"

See, what I'm trying to hint at here is that Star Boy has poor recognition skills.

Also, he's an A-1 jerk. "No, you can't be Bouncing Boy - he was a fat asshole. "

And I'll tell you exactly what Mon-El - and possibly Sun Boy - is thinking in this panel: I wonder if anyone's noticed the new way I combed my hair?

Bouncing Boy goes on to tell the story of his slimmening, which involves a shrink ray and is patently something that the writer threw together just to get rid of the guy. Not that anyone was listening to him anyway:

They were far too busy voting on whether to toss him out on his ear or not, with maybe a quick roughing up by Ultra Boy to make sure he keeps his mouth shut if any reporters think to ask about the Big Computer Sex Parties or anything like that.

So presumably they send the Reservist out for Astro-coffee or something, and then it's back to the meeting!

Now, this is back from when the Time Trapper was a super-scientist hiding behind the Iron Curtain of Time, thirty days into the future or so. Long, long before he became the Irritating Emo Plot Device From the End of Time that we all know and I loathe, he was actually mildly interesting. He sat behind that curtain and made fun of the Legion and every once in a while he tried some ridiculous scheme involving Glorith or the Molecular Master or someone like that.

Ah, there's the first mention of the Concentrator. Time to find out what it is: speak on, Star Boy!

Aw. I guess we'll never learn what that darned thing is. grumble grumble this is why I have to write such long reviews, damn Legion and their secrecy...

Superboy: Hey, Mon-El's hair looks great. I wonder if I should change my 'do?

Chameleon Boy and Triplicate Girl then show up and completely coincidentally tell everyone about some really lame attempts to wrangle info about the Concentrator out of them. This elicits some fairly elaborate eyebrow-raising and not a little nose-wrinkling, and then, in a completely coincidental occurrence:

Science Police Commissioner Wilson shows up! He's heard some talk of a Concentrator of some kind and he wants the poop! He's... kind of paunchy!

Now, this comes up later, so I'd like to point it out specifically: the chain of events here is that a) This guy hears a vague rumour about the Legion having a super-weapon of some sort. b) He asks them about it and they say that it could potentially threaten the entire Universe. c) He believes them, just like all good people should when a group of teenagers make grandiose claims.

d) Based solely on space-radio scuttlebutt and their collective word, he decides to put them through gruelling psychological torment, with possible life imprisonment waiting for anyone who blabs.

Planet Althar, uninhabited except for strange life-forms! (Space Directive X21v states that planets may be considered inhabited only if the life-forms in question are regular, small or boring. Technically, Althar is considered to be in-friggin'-habited, but the term was coined in the 2530s, and scientists of the Legion era don't talk like that any more.)

A better site for testing astronauts' suitability for space travel, you say? Could it be, just as an example, somewhere that you don't need a rocket ship to get to? I only ask out of curiosity, you understand.

Heh, Matter-Eating Lad. Nice one, Querl.

See, it came up again (sooner than I'd thought, but still): based solely on their word, this man is prepared to imprison these people for life if they reveal a secret that they themselves decided to keep. That's like... ag! I can't even think up a good example! Legion logic hurts my head!

Good issue, though.

NEXT TIME: the Legionnaires get psychologically tortured!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Prose: Review of Who Can Save Us Now?, By Johnathan

Took advantage of being home sick to finish reading Who Can Save Us Now?, which I mentioned in my first review of prose way back when. I'm far, far too lazy to see if I mentioned this then, but the theme of the anthology is that it's made up of the stories of brand new superheroes, and it's pretty consistently great. The authors (all new to me, which is extra-terrific as it gives me a passel of new books to check out) approach the idea of superheroism in a fairly diverse set of ways, from looking at old-fashioned rock-'em sock-'em heroics to everyday, trying-to-make-a-difference stuff. I did raise one eyebrow when the first story in the book ("Girl Reporter" by Stephanie Harrell) turned out to be, essentially, about Lois Lane and Superman without any names named, but it was such a damned fine yarn that I ultimately didn't care.

There are a lot of fantastic tales in this collection, in fact. "Nate Pinckney-Alderson, Superhero"(fantastic characterization, especially of the titular youth) by Elizabeth Crane, "Bad Karma Girl Wins at Bingo" (possibly my favourite-as-a-person character in the collection) by Kelly Braffet, "Man Oh Man - It's Manna Man" by George Singleton (best title in the book, and one of the best hero concepts), "The Thirteenth Egg"(coolest costume or equivalent, in my head) by Scott Snyder, etc, etc. As I said, lots of different visions, and nobody took the theme off in a really jarring direction (you know - like there's a themed anthology about desks, and someone writes a stream-of-consciousness drug-inspired novella about a dying yak who spend half a page imagining that he is a desk. Whether or not it's a decent story, you find yourself skipping over it the next time you read the book and the whole thing holds together a lot more coherently without it. Or is that just me?).

Owen King and John McNally - the editors - also put in a good show on the writing front, McNally with "Remains of the Night", about the butler to the super-creepy, Batman-esque Silverfish, and King with "The Meerkat", which is probably my favourite of the stories in the collection. King has the Kurt Busiek-like ability to throw out a few references and imply a whole superhero-filled world. I would love to read actual comic books (preferably about the further adventures of The Meerkat) written by this guy - I do believe that they would be great.

Likewise, I would heartily enjoy hearing more from Jennifer Weiner on the adventures of the characters in "League of Justice (Philidelphia Division)". Though the story itself is open-ended in a way that doesn't strictly require resolution, I would read any followup stories or an expansion to novel-length so hard.

In short: great collection (oops, almost forgot - really nice-looking cover and neato interior illustration, the latter by Chris Burnham), JOHN APPROVED

Addendum: I just looked up a few other reviews of this book, just out of curiosity, and have to say: what the hell is up over at the New York Post? This review, which I implore you not to read unless you have already or never intend to read the book, is possibly the most heinous thing ever. Oh, it's positive, and obviously much more professionally-written than my own written-for-the-fun-of-it efforts, but good lord, sir (sir in this case being a Mr. Brian Doherty), what the hell were you thinking when you chose two quotes that ruined the impact of two of the more affecting stories in the book? It's like going back in time and recommending Star Wars on the basis of the bitchin' "Luke's father" reveal. NOT APPROVED, sir.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Future Zoo: Review of the Giant Mouth-Creature, By Johnathan

Hello again! It's time for the long-awaited review of the Giant Mouth-Creature! I would have done this thang this past weekend but was involved in a series of celebrations of my great-grandmother's 100th birthday - highly JOHN APPROVED.

On to the beast! The Giant Mouth-Creature (or possibly giant Mouth-Creature - the all-caps nature of comics lettering means that we shall never really know) appeared in a single panel in Adventure Comics No. 321, in which various Legionnaires are subjected to physical and mental torture (fun!) to test whether they've got the stones necessary to keep their greatest weapon a secret. Saturn Girl ends being scanned with some sort of mind-reading device, but avoids giving up info by thinking about heroic feats that the Legion has performed, including this little number:

I've got to say: this is pretty weak. I mean, Matter-Eater Lad is my very favourite Legionnaire, but there's a heck of a lot wrong with this situation. First off: what the hell kind of wimps are these aliens? They have this critter lurking around their village, eating trees - not star basketball players, not baby-sitters: trees - and they're so scared of it's wide-mouthed herbivorousness that they have to call in a special guy to eat the trees for them. I was going to wonder why they didn't just kill the Mouth-Creature if it gave them the willies so bad, but I think I just answered my own question: it's because they can't even defeat a tree, let alone an omnivorous-at-worst sphere with lockjaw that doesn't do much more than glare when some dude just waltzes in and eats up it's bedtime snack. I wonder: if M-E Lad takes too long to do the job will they become frightened of him? Do they accuse people sitting next to them on the astro-bus of "Lurking there and frightening me"? Bah. Bah, I say.

The creature itself? Kind of awesome. I can't decide whether I want it to be able to close its mouth or not, but even if it's a permanent thing, that's a fantastic expression of impotent rage that it's wearing as it watches Tenzil snack. Also, those little rubbery legs are great. Again, how could you be frightened of this thing? It looks like something that you could tip over and use as a planter, without calling in Element Lad to adjust the soil's pH or anything. Heck, you could even get all ironic and use it to grow some Red Andal trees in, if you're that sort of person.

Giant Mouth-Creature: JOHN APPROVED. Wussy aliens? NOT APPROVED

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Super-Human Detritus of the Thirtieth Century: Review of Green Guy and Camera Eye, by Johnathan

I have listened to the will of the people, and just under half of them want to hear about some future-losers with super-powers. This poll thing seems to be working all right, so I'll be keeping it up for a while - not necessarily in any consistent format, mind you.

Today we'll look at a couple of guys from way, way back in the day (Adventure Comics No. 307, that's how way). I've been kind of putting off discussing them for a while now, not because they're not rich and fascinating topics for online pontification but because they've only got one panel of action - their combined in-continuity adventures span one-third of one page. Thankfully, on further investigation I found that a full two-thirds of the page in question was suitable for discussion, so the Internet will get to hear my opinions after all!

Here's the Legion, fresh from an encounter with the arch-pirate Roxxas, who has been flying around with his band of cutthroats stealing simply everything in sight - seriously, he goes to one planet and basically ends up making off with all of their light bulbs. The Legionnaires are concerned that they don't have the numbers to take on this murderous, awful, bloodthirsty crew, so they hit upon the idea of signing up a few new recruits, presumably as cannon fodder. Note that Invisible Kid is wearing that same black-hair-and-yellow-jumpsuit number that he was sporting during the Dynamo Kid audition. Colouring error or early-onset midlife crisis ("Bright colours - bright colours are young, right? And... and I'll dye my hair black! Get a sporty hover-car, a sexy Durlan ladyfriend - nobody'll ever guess that I'm an old man of seventeen.)?

Having neglected to give a name, this youngster is variously identified as Green Boy, Green Guy and possibly Green Lad. Me, I figure that anyone who bothers to inject himself with chemicals until he gets a side-effect that qualifies as a super-power just (I assume) so's he can apply for a club is going to think up something a bit more grandiose than that. Lime Lad? Emerald Ed? Ral Kint, the Chlorochromaticistic Kid? Guess we'll never know, though, so I'm going with Green Guy, 'cause it's short and I like alliteration.

Green Guy might - just might - be the most delusional person ever to walk away from Legion HQ with a consolation flight belt. He's at least in the running beside Rann Antar. Check him out: from the explanation that he has just given I am lead to believe that his powers affect only the world around him. I mean, he's not turning green, that's for sure. So a) why the hell is he decked out in blue and orange when a quick trip to the Army/Navy Surplus (Stormtrooper/Spacefleet Surplus) could at least lend a little weight to his argument and b) how the hell is that any use in camouflage? Even on a world with green foliage, wouldn't that field of greenifying rays just make him easier to spot? He'd just be this blue-and-orange figure at the centre of a blobby field of green. Boo, Green Guy, boo. You're lucky that Sun Boy was feeling uncharacteristically kind and let you down easy with that "Different planets have different leaves." excuse. On any other tryout day he'd just roar "REJECTED!" and set your hair on fire.


Next up is Camera Eye (again, best guess on the name), a comparatively normal youth. Amusingly, he is green. Man, I got so worked up about Green Guy that I'm a bit spent on the old "Making fun of guys" front. Okay, here goes: Camera Eye, you'd have maybe the barest hint of a chance of getting into the Legion as some sort of living sex-tape maker or something if you weren't such a liar. At the risk of sounding like exactly the kind of pedantic nerd that I am: when the hell did Superboy ever meet Bizarro? Never, that's when, you liar. Oh, he met Bizarro Superboy, sure, but that's clearly a bizarro Superman up there. Go on home, Camera Eye. Go home and watch videos of yourself crying in the mirror. Jerk.

Nice shirt, though. Still, NOT APPROVED.

And I just threw this one in because Element Lad's costume looks pretty nifty with that question mark on it. And the lad himself looks particularly elfin, I must say. Also: surprisingly jaunty for someone who recently became the only one of his kind.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Addendum to the Review of Prose

Oh, man. Remember the "I am a huge nerd." part of the last post? Not that I think that anybody would ever disbelieve me, but there's a bit of evidence to that effect that I should have shared with the world years ago. Check it out this slice of my desktop:

I think that there are some jock-dominated countries with a "public whipping" policy for stuff like this.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Review of Prose, By Johnathan

I think that I may have alluded to the fact that I was an English major in University a couple of times (though with the amount of theory that I've forgotten since then I basically have a degree in Reading Stuff, Forming an Opinion on it and Writing That Opinion Down, at length. Hey! That makes me perfectly qualified to have a comics blog, doesn't it?) and so it shouldn't come as too great a shock to find out that I'm not just a comics nerd and an Internerd, I'm a a prose nerd, too! Okay, also a mythology nerd (Classics minor, word), drama nerd, etymology nerd, history nerd, plant nerd, animation nerd and listener to nerdy music. And ladies, I'm available.

Comics and prose are the biggies, though. I love me some good fiction, yes I do. To that end, I just purchased a book entitled Who Can Save Us Now? (Owen King and John McNally, eds) which is an anthology of short stories about some brand new super-heroes. I haven't opened it yet, so the only solid info I have is that there's a story about someone called The Rememberer, but buying it got me thinking about other text-based tales of the super-hero and whenever I get thinking about things like this I feel compelled to share my thoughts with you lovely folks.

First off, I think I'd list a lot of old pulp yarns as fantastic examples of what superhero text should be: action-packed, character-driven and fairly short. That's not to say that a long, introspective novel about international diplomacy as seen through the eyes of UN goodwill ambassador Courage Lad wouldn't potentially be great, just that I'd likely read a few novellas about the Mighty Turbine giving robotic aliens the business in between volumes. I haven't read nearly as much pulp fiction as I'd like, but for my money I'd have to recommend Doc Savage and the Spider - the Shadow is great and all, but I prefer the radio show. Of course, if we're travelling back through literary history here we could talk about Gladiator (Alas, I haven't read it), The Invisible Man and other such late Victorian proto-science fiction or my man Sherlock Holmes. Heck, we could pull in Arthurian legend, Greek and Norse mythology and the original Dynamic Duo of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but then this would turn into a much longer and much less focused post. Because it's so incredibly focused right now.

Harry Newberry and the Raiders of the Red Drink, By Mel Gilden. Man, I loved this book when I was a lad. Come to think of it, I still love it. It's a young adult novel written in an absurd style reminiscent of the incomparable Daniel M. Pinkwater. The titular Harry Newberry is a comic-obsessed kid who ends up discovering that the seemingly boring world around him is actually jam-packed with complete weirdness. There are a lot of fantastic touches like people running around in completely thrown-together costumes and... man, I don't want to spoil this one at all. Most libraries seem to have this one on hand and I say: go read it! It's got the best idea for a pizza restaurant ever, I swear, and some of the best brotherly interactions in youth fiction.

Chance Fortune and the Outlaws, by Shane Berryhill. I picked this one a few months back. Judging by the study questions at the back it's also aimed at young adults, but it's a solid read. The title character, though he's been highly trained by an old-school superhero, has to lie about having luck-based super-powers to get into hero school. The Outlaws, his in-school supergroup, are a bunch of engaging characters - there's lots of good teen drama (as opposed to the all-too-frequent bad teen drama) and a rivalry with another, super-douchey team and a sinister plot to foil. Plus, the school's department heads are a pretty good JLA pastiche. Oh, and there's a highly entertaining training battle against a team composed of anime-style super-heroes!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. Not strictly a super-hero novel, but enough of the reality of comics creeps into the characters' regular lives to be good enough for me. I can't say too much about this one that hasn't been said before and better, but I'll put it in here anyway because I know a lot of comic fans who haven't read it. Read it! It's a good, good novel, with lots of delicious character development. Stan Lee makes a brief appearance, proving my theory that his super-power is an incredible ability to make cameos.

The Wild Cards Series, Gerorge R. R. Martin, ed. I've read maybe seven or eight of the eleven million or so volumes in this series, and while they were none of them terrible I definitely liked the shared-world collections of short stories more than the later "mosaic novels", partly because I liked some of the contributors more than others and the shifts in prose style got kind of jarring at times but also because the whole thing got so damned dark after a while. The basic story was great: aliens decide to test an experimental mutagen on Earth and it gets released over New York in the late Forties. Most people who are exposed to the stuff die and most of those who survive are radically mutated (these are called Jokers, thanks to a running card-based naming convention). A very small percentage ed up with very super-heroey powers (these ones are called Aces) and part of the series' mandate is exploring how the presence of all of these guys shapes subsequent human culture and history and such. There are a lot of neato characters, like Croyd Crensen, the Sleeper, who falls into years-long comas and wakes up each time with different powers and a new appearance and lives a cycle of sleep and increasingly desperate and stimulant-fueled wakefulness. Or there's Captain Trips, a super-duper hippie who has multiple powered identities accessed through hard drug usage, or Kid Dinosaur, who can turn into dinosaurs and is basically a fanboy who follows other Aces around and annoys them. The first couple of collections are highly recommended, ayup.

Of course, there are all of the books that are about characters that originated in comics, but frankly, I haven't read too many of those. I remember a book of Spider-Man short stories that I enjoyed (the Internet says that it was called The Ultimate Spider-Man), especially one called "Kraven the Hunter is Dead, Alas", though what it was about escapes me these many years later. Marvel books were always fun to read because they always had some nice original artwork inside - I especially remember liking What Savage Beast by Peter David, which had the Maestro and a neat picture of all kinds of possible alternate Hulks (Scaley Hulk! Hairy Hulk!).

Okay, that's it. There are a lot more books that I wish that I could read (say, Superfolk) and others that I have read and subsequently forgotten the contents of (Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask, for example). And I can't seem to even find the damn Hellboy novels. Do they actually exist? Perhaps in the future I will expand on this rambling, unfocused entry. Feel free to clue me in to things that I should check out.