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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Thor: God of Thunder #1

Thor: God of Thunder #1
Jason Aaron, Esad Ribic, Dean White

(Once again, Tucker already covered this over at Comics of the Weak, so check that out too.)

Ever since Matt Fraction's four excellent Thor one-shots (the ones that preceded his just-ok run on the Thor series), I've come to realize that the Thor for me is the hard-partying asshole Thor, the fun and brash Thor that knew nothing of responsibility or humility, so it stands to reason that I am onboard with this Marvel NOW! relaunch as Jason Aaron seems to be of the same opinion.  The story looks to follow Thor in his irresponsible, Giant-killing past, his heroic present, and his grisly, last god standing future.

We start in the past where Thor parties hard after killing a giant in iceland (duh).  All that hard partying gets interrupted when Thor's buddies find the body of a dead American god washing up on the river.  Thor does some boasting, tells some kid to build a funeral pyre (to show that he's not a complete piece of shit), then tells his bros to stop worrying because there's still SO MUCH more ale and women to be had at the party mansion.

And what do we get as a result of Thor choosing partying over solving a murder mystery?  An unchecked secret THOUSANDS OF YEARS OLD.  Anyway, the same mystery bad guy has been up to his same deal of butchering* gods all over the universe, and our new, more responsible (but not too much-- dude canNOT turn down a swig of victory ale or a chance to talk about all the other times he won a battle and consequently swigged victory ale and fucked victory wenches) Thor has to deal with the consequences of being drunk for 1,000ish years.  Oh, but don't worry, we're not done yet, because right as Thor figures out that this could've all been prevented with a quick investigation and a 12-step program 1,000ish years ago, we jump a few thousand years ahead to see a future where a one-armed, one-eyed Thor is surrounded by the hench-demons of this yet-to-be-revealed God Butcher.  I'm hoping that present-day heroic Thor got a case of the "Fuckit, This-is-hards" and decided to put off trying to find our bad guy for another couple thousand of years.

So that's what we get here, a cosmic mystery for the ages.  Sure, that's fine, but what really sells this book is how it refuses to apologize for how much fun its having.  Jason Aaron's script is silly and clunky, but it's so confident it's hard not to make all sorts of pleased grunts while you're reading.  Esad Ribic and Dean White are great at letting you know what to look at and who to care about.  The backgrounds and landscapes are vast and exciting, the characters of note are muscular he-men, and the characters of, uh, not-so-much note are a bunch of sniveling weaklings who need a hero.  It's a pretty book that's never embarrassed of itself and that goes pretty far for me when it comes to superhero books these days.  I like it so far, and as long as we get some more Thor victory parties, I'm into it.

*a fun idea for a Thor drinking game is to drink every time someone says "butcher" or "butchered."  It happens a lot, and I'm still not sure if this is due to editor's oversight or if this is a deliberate device.  Either way I'm cool with it.  Also, I'm drunk.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

All-New X-Men #1

All-New X-Men #1
Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, Marte Gracia

Comics of the Weak already did a nice little bit of writing on this one, so I'm just gonna throw some thoughts at you on this one:

Cyclops has gotten pretty cool in the last, I dunno, five-ish years?  It's been a pretty long road from perpetual stick-in-the-mud-and-cuckold-waiting-to-happen to committing mind-adultery and becoming a radical mutant zionist, and now he's rolling with a group of reformed supervillains in what any ordinary human in the Marvel Universe would have difficulty thinking of as a terrorist group.  But I guess we know better since we're on the other side of the comic book.  "Mutant terrorist methods" becomes the much more sexy and easy "righteous guerilla tactics" when we have the benefit of knowing that Cyclops actually is doing this for good.  Or maybe we don't.  Maybe I just want to believe in Cyclops. I don't know, either way Cyclops on the run, helping new mutants, fighting for what he believes in, hunted by humans and X-Men alike, it makes him really cool in that Green Ranger action figure sort of way.

It looks like the other side of the equation in this book comes with Cyclops's buddy Hank McCoy, the Beast, trying to get Cyclops, a man who was recently possessed by a near-omnipotent power, to, you know, just CHILL OUT for two seconds.  Things don't look so good for Hank, seeing as how he may be experiencing another mutation that may or may not be slowly killing him, AND that he's gotten desperate enough to travel back in time to recruit the original teenage X-Men to try to talk down Cyclops and his Brotherhood of Guerilla Mutants.

Let's just think about how crazy the conceit of this series is for a bit.  The Beast goes back in time to get the teenage versions of himself and his friends to come back to the present with him so that they could talk their buddy down from some really reckless shit. I just don't think I'd listen to a teenage version of myself trying to give me advice about anything.  I'm a few years out of my teenage life, and I don't think I've ever looked back except to think about how stupid I used to be when I was a teenager.  Sorry teen-me, you wore bad clothes, listened to dumb music for the wrong reasons, and never even TRIED to have sex with anyone, so why would I trust you on ANYTHING?  You, like, JUST learned how to drive.  I'd think the same might go more than double for Cyclops, a dude who spent his teens obeying orders and pining over a total of 1 (one) girl, and who since getting out of his teens has seen some grade-A shit.  I guess the idea is for now-Cyclops to talk to then-Cyclops and realize how far away he's gotten from when the X-Men started out, but man, things have changed drastically since those Doom Patrol knock-offs got together to fight racism.

The conceit of this book works as a sort of meta-commentary about superhero comics too.  Whenever a stagnating series is given the chance to get revitalized, the creators behind it are always talking about a "back to basics" approach, or something like "returning to our roots."  DC's Geoff Johns-helmed superhero comics being the prime example of this kind of thinking.  I don't think All-New X-Men is going to be going down that particular path, and I'm hoping for a subversion of this sort of thing, but you know how superhero comics go.  There's not a whole lot of room for anything new.

Anyway, I hope Marvel NOW!-Cyclops spits in teen-Cyclops's face and sends him back to his own time.  Adults rule.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Captain America #1


Captain America #1
Rick Remender, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Dean White

I've stayed away from the majority of superhero comics for a while, but old habits are hard to break because they die hard, or something like that.  Anyway, I guess there's something to be said for the Marvel NOW! initiative/creative team shift, because it did its job and got me suckered into picking up a couple of titles.  Captain America has been the most fun one I've read so far.

After years of Brubaker skillfully turning Captain America into Marvel's premiere espionage thriller / World War II battle story vehicle, Marvel NOW! gives the ol' warhorse over to Rick Remender, lately known in the Marvel Universe for being the dude who turned The Punisher into a Frankenstein (The Punisher), had Fantomex shoot a kid in the face (Uncanny X-Force), a team of Avengers that no one knew about (Secret Avengers), and also something about Venom posing with AK-47s (Venom).  Remender's also writing Marvel NOW!'s flagship book, Uncanny Avengers, which as far as I can tell, is a book that capitalizes on nerd culture's fascination with mashups as a clever facade to hide its truer, more embarrassing intentions of trying to make us care about Havok.

Remender's written some good comics and some boring ones, but they usually tend to skew towards the better end of current superhero books.  Realizing he'll never be Brubaker, Remender decides that his strategy is to make Captain America about some outlandish sci-fi junk, and you know what?  It works pretty well.  He's not really breaking any new ground so far in terms of superhero comics, but it's fun to see Captain America being that true blue, never say die, born on the 4th of July, these colors don't run, U-S-A U-S-A! Captain America but with, like, spaceships and monsters.  Back when Brubaker was running things I seem to remember that Cap was a bit more subdued and calculating, but I guess with the growing influence of those Marvel movies that the kids like, Remender had to opt for a more in-your-face Captain America.  I mean, I'm sure it's due to a  bunch of things aside from the popularity of Marvel's movies too, but Remender's Cap does read a bit closer to Mark Millar's Ultimate Comics version (so far, without the jingoistic jerkiness).  At any rate, Remender's Cap seems to be less the master spy and hardened war veteran, and more the two-fisted tough guy, and it's a nice change of pace to see Cap in a new situation.  (Sidenote: according to this comicbook, Captain America WAS born on the fourth of July!  Which caused me, upon reading that bit, to remark out loud, to no one, "Oh, you're fucking kidding me," but in a totally fun, "ok, sure, I'll get onboard," sort of way, really!)

The Sci-Fi stuff Cap finds himself in is pretty standard fare: Cap gets kidnapped and drugged, and he wakes to a strange new planet filled with grotesque medical science, things growing in vats, alien monsters, etc.  Cap quickly escapes his captors with some quick moves and only the second incident of jumping through a window.  To be fair, the first incident involved Cap jumping INTO something, while this one involves Cap jumping OUT OF something.  It's a subtle distinction, but one that you'll be ready to make once you've been following Captain America comics for a bit, as almost every issue involves Cap jumping through windows or something.

If you were thinking it was all fun and games with yer ol' buddy Cap in Dimension Z, however, think again, Bucky.  By the end of it all, Cap is all alone in a strange new world with a baby in tow.  It looks like all this noodling around in another dimension is actually going to be a comicbook allegory for settling down and having kids.  Remender also promises to balance out all that high-octane action with some serious fucking GRAVITAS by way of flashbacks of Steve Rogers's depression-era childhood complete with struggling immigrant parents.  In this issue we even get a peek at some good old fashioned domestic abuse!  Don't worry, though -- by the end of it, lil' Stevie's battered mother manages to impart a valuable lesson about never giving up or something.  I mean we always knew that Captain America, like all the hard-working American auto-manufacturing plants he stands for, is a paragon of perseverance, BUT DID YOU KNOW HE LEARNED IT FROM HIS MOM AFTER SHE GOT SMACKED IN THE FACE BY HIS DRUNK IMMIGRANT FATHER?  FORGET WHAT YOU THOUGHT YOU KNEW-- THIS IS MARVEL. . . NOW!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Yikes!  Our last update was way back in May when that Avengers movie came out, offending no one.  Guess I'm just checking in here as a sort of proof of life for now, but maybe one of these days I'll get this blog on track.  Anyway, here's what I've been into lately:

By This You Shall Know Him by Jesse Jacobs
Jin & Jam by Hellen Jo
Snake Oil 7 by Charles Forsman
Blobby Boys by Alex Schubert
Meat Comix and Ugly People Fucking by Burnt Lobster
Marceline and the Scream Queens by Meredith Gran
Popeye by Roger Langridge
Nancy by Ernie Bushmiller
Werewolves of Montpellier by Jason
Hawkeye by Matt Fraction, David Aja, et al.
Locas by Jaime Hernandez

Gonna make some more detailed reviews and such soon, but for now check out those links for some good comics!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

DEATH-RAY OZONE Reviews "The Avengers"

A whispered conversation that took place between Tessa and Geoffrey during a viewing of "The Avengers"

Geoffrey: These hands... they're so... heavy.

Tessa: Son, that's because they're made of hams.

If you went out to see "The Avengers," please consider giving back to comics and the creators who make them by donating to The Hero Initiative.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: Winter Soldier #2

Winter Soldier #2
Ed Brubaker , Butch Guice, Bettie Breitweiser

I've got a little theory about why I haven't read every issue of Captain America that Brubaker's written despite my love for his superhero game.  The problem is this: Ed Brubaker so consistently puts out good comics that oftentimes a fool like me begins to take them for granted.  I'm going to try to not make the same mistake with this new series because it seems to be filling a sexy, super-spy genre-sized gap in Marvel's output.  Moreover, Brubaker offers up that same kind of consistent quality that can only be found in the copy for nostalgic Chevy Truck commercials.

I lost track of most of my Marvel titles right around when Fear Itself started wrapping up, and a lot of the behind the scenes ugliness has really put me off reading much of their output (save for Daredevil and Uncanny X-Force, because, you know, duh), so I didn't really know what was going on with our buddy Bucky, but I guess he died, then he got better, and it's kept mostly a secret from everyone so that he and The Black Widow can go out and do sexy spy things together.  Specifically, they have to go out and find three other dudes that Bucky trained to be Soviet sleeper agent killers before they can be activated by bad guys and used to do bad guy things.  I'm not worried.  It's a solid premise that I'm sure Brubaker can mine for at least three arcs, and it's all there: intrigue, mystery, thoughtful internal monologues about tactical thinking, even some outlandish "a-gorilla-with-a-machine-gun-oh-shit-now-he-has-a-jet-pack?-only-in-comics!" elements are thrown in and used entirely effectively without detracting from the weight of the story,  but if it were just that, it'd be yet another Brubaker book I'd end up just taking for granted and forgetting about.  But in addition to added effort on my part to not being a chump, I'm sticking with Winter Soldier because it has a few things going for it that I think those issues of Captain America featuring Steve Rogers never did.

Firstly, KISSING!

(that one's actually from the previous issue, but just try to tell me you're mad that I made you look at that again.)

One of the more interesting things about these comics, and I guess about the character of Bucky Barnes in general is his romance with Natasha Romanoff.  When you compare it to Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter, it's pretty similar in that neither Bucky nor Steve is known for being a swingin' bachelor or anything, but the difference is that no one who reads a Captain America book gives a shit about Steve and Sharon hanging out and finishing each other's sentences.  Seventy-ish years of Captain America stories about a man who embodies the ideals of a nation have sapped out much of the potential for a sexy Captain America story, or if not the potential for one, then at least the expectations for one.

Bucky, on the other hand, gets a little more flexibility in this regard.  Since Bucky doesn't have Seventy-ish years of comics about him (and also because once he came back into comic readers' collective consciousness he came back waving a giant "EVERYTHING YOU KNEW WAS MOSTLY CORRECT BUT YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THIS" retcon banner), there are less preconceptions about what to expect from stories about him.  Maybe Marvel missed a chance to have Bucky rolling around the Marvel Universe in casual sex mode, but the direction that we've got works in both a character sense and in a "we're owned by Disney lest we forget" sense.  Bucky's a one woman guy, and that's not gonna change any time soon, it seems, so Brubaker deals with it in a way I didn't really expect.  Bucky is a monogamous James Bond, and I like that just fine.  The romance between Bucky and Natasha is written as a relationship with two mature adults who've known each other for a while and who have come to a secure understanding about their relationship and their work. True, Bucky and Natasha are both people who shit where they eat, but they're superheroes, so it works out better for them and they look better doing it than any of us could ever hope to.  What I enjoy best about these two characters is how it's clear that they're at that point in their relationship where they are completely comfortable with each other.  Except instead of staying in and marathoning Six Feet Under they quietly infiltrate a secret super-gadget auction for criminals, and instead of being cool with being in the same room while the other pees, they're cool with watching each other shoot a dude in the chest.  We don't get that a lot in comics anymore, but it's good to know that if we get tired of it, Bucky can just up and trade his memories to Mephisto for a new arm or whatever.

The other thing that is really making this book click for me is Butch Guice and Bettie Bretiweiser's art.  I think there was a recent Captain America arc that Guice worked on where he was trying out his Steranko impression, and it seems that all that practice paid off.  Winter Soldier doesn't look entirely like a Steranko rip, but you can definitely see the influence bleeding through.  We get dynamic layout ideas, panel smashing, and some effective pop-art photo collage-type things.  I think Tessa best described the look as a stack of documents strewn about a secret agent's desk.  The action scenes are cluttered with tiny, misshapen panels that are interrupted by a bigger, borderless panel of a close up of the action (usually some hapless thug getting hit in the face).  It's a mess, but it's a rewarding one as Guice has an expert grasp on the speed of the moments that each panel conveys.  Once our heads finish reeling from all the dizzying gunplay and broken noses, the comic slows down with the talky, debriefing pages (read: exposition), and thanks to Guice and Breitweister, we get to look at stuff like this instead of just nodding along:


The panels in these sequences come at a very steady, measured pace, and the colors and all that spy-jargon-secret-eyes-only text reinforce the idea that this shit goes deep, which makes dialogue that boils down to "These are these guys we are looking for.  We should probably find them because this is the premise of the series" a whole lot more lively.  The Steranko influence goes a long way, but I think Guice and Breitweister have gone a little bit further in that they're completely aware of their Steranko leanings and they fully exploit them.  There are panels that look zoomed in to the point where brush strokes and Ben-Day dots are visible, and since this is a modern comic, all instances of brush strokes Ben-Day dots are of course entirely deliberate.  It makes these scenes look like they're about to collapse all over themselves, probably under the weight of carrying around Steranko's spy-pop on their backs.

Really the only bad thing about this comic is that I can't give my money directly to Jack Kirby's grave.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The State of The Death-Ray

Hello!

We haven't updated Death-Ray Ozone in a while (sorry!), but I wanted to put something here to let you know that we're both still alive and blogging.

Over the course of the last couple of months, I've found myself fairly burnt out on the usual superhero comics that we tend to cover here at Death-Ray Ozone, so I decided to take a little bit of a break to explore what else is out there.  I'm still following a few superhero books, of course, but ever since December, I guess, I've been gradually cutting them out of my weekly routine, and replacing them with a bunch of books and mini-comics and creators that had previously only existed on the fringes of my comics-reading consciousness.  It's exciting, and it's a roundabout way of introducing what's basically just going to be a "here's some stuff I've been into lately" capsule-style review post, so, hey:

Here's some stuff I've been into lately that you should probably check out sometime:

Forming by Jesse Moynihan
This was probably the best thing that I'd read in all of 2011.  I picked up a copy of the print version of Jesse Moynihan's webcomic "Forming" at BCGF, and I fell in love with this book.  It's a sci-fi/spiritual creation myth told with bright colors, casual vulgarities, and meaningful scoops of violence.  Jesse Moynihan makes the exact comics I want to see in the world.  Be sure to check out "Cosmic River" as well for further examples of the comics I want in the world.

The comics of Michael DeForge
This dude knows how to make a comicbook.  Check out his series "Lose" and all the other anthology things he's been in.  He's doing this thing with his comics where he's fucking around with his styles, trying to figure out what works best as he goes along, and it's a thrill to watch each page sort of unfold into something so warmly bizarre.  It's like remembering the painful parts of your life with equal parts whimsy and body-horror.

POWR MASTRS by CF
As far as the independent comics creators and publishing goes, I've surmised that CF is probably the punkest dude in the scene.  CF is the kind of creator that makes things with his hands.  These comics people all do, but CF makes comics with warts and gnarled teeth out for everyone to see, making things as they come, the urgency of the idea coming through each line on the page.  CF's "POWR MASTRS" series is a good place to get a look at the energy that this guy has.  It's got a sort of futuristic fantasy type of tone to it, but the real magic of the series is that you really feel like you've been dropped right into the middle of this world.  You've got questions and you feel a little sick from the trip, sure, but more than anything, you're along for the ride.

The comics of Ryan Cecil Smith
Ryan Cecil Smith is making some of the most exciting and enjoyable mini-comics out there and they all look so pretty and precious, like delicate little comicbook gems, filled with space action fun and humor.  I'm talking about his "SF" series and the accompanying "SF Supplementary Files," of course.  Ryan Cecil Smith has made an excellent scifi adventure that just revels in the overexposed tropes of the genre to such a point where it goes beyond a level of parody to reveal instead a (mostly) unironic enthusiasm for the genre.  It's most especially clear that Smith loves these genre comics when he's doing straight-up retellings of manga classics (Check out "Two Eyes of the Beautiful" and "SF Supplementary File #2A-C."), and I think that's what I like most about his work: that his excitement and love for these stories sits there on the risographed print, inviting you in to see all the good that Smith sees in stories about space cops and murderous, beauty-obsessed film queens.  He also scores bonus points for printing out his own publication of Epictetus's "The Enchiridion," because, you know, why not print out your own publication of Epictetus's "The Enchiridion?"