Friday, 31 January 2014

What DC films needs to do to compete with Marvel

Like it or not, this has to be better than The Avengers to keep
the competition healthy.
As much as I love Marvel (I have loved series such as X-Men Legacy, Hawkeye and Scarlet Spider) I gotta’ say, I am more of a DC guy. There is something that just draws me into the DC universe and really care for the characters more.

It’s not just the comics that I love, though. DC’s television, video game and animated ventures have struck me as incredibly satisfying. Arrow remains one of my favourite TV shows, I drooled all over my DVD player watching last year’s Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, and I am kicking myself that I deleted the Injustice app off my phone.

Which is why it hurts when I hear people talk about DC as “forever Marvel’s kid brother” (and I actually saw a comment using those words on IGN a few months ago). These people are mostly talking about the movies. The Avengers beat The Dark Knight Rises in the box office and that apparently proves that DC is inferior. I have my own opinion about The Avengers, but that, I think is a different article for a different time. Today, I’m writing to argue that DC is far from out of the game. In fact, give it two or three years and DC could snatch victory away from Marvel again. Below are a list of ways that DC can indeed pull ahead in the movie game and give Marvel’s phase 3 a run for their money.

1.       Do it differently

I want to see Justice League as much as the next man. But DC needs to be careful how they go about it. Last thing DC fans want is for a JL movie to be released only to have it be dismissed as a “poor man’s Avengers” and that means DC needs to walk a fine line between universe building and not doing what Marvel did. Do I have a suggestion for that? Actually, I have no clue. But if DC comes up with a truly original way to build their film universe, that method alone should be enough to interest the uninitiated. If DC wants to survive in the film world, they have to stand on their own shoulders.

2.       Make TV your friend

Let’s be clear; this is different from a “combine the TV universe with the film one” suggestion. But utilise the hype that is generated by a TV show and use it to give the films momentum. Am I suggesting a Green Arrow movie? Why not? If DC allows more licenses to go out, they could do a spectacular job at using these shows to advertise their film franchises. I’m pretty sure that fever people would have been even interested in Superman Returns were it not for Smallville- think of what a TV show could do for a film that’s actually done well.

3.       Work those advertisements!

The main reason Marvel films have been so successful actually has nothing to do with the quality of the films themselves. Captain America was a mess, Iron Man 2 was painfully awful and Thor never quite made it past “pretty good”. But these films got people talking. Not because of the quality of the films, but because viewers started putting the clues (read: signposts saying “There will be an Avengers film”) together. Nerds love pretending that they know stuff and all of these hints served to build excitement for the coming team-up. It was, in essence the longest, most expensive advertising campaign in the history of film and it paid off in spades. In the same way, the second Man of Steel should lead people to think that a Justice League  movie is definitely coming. Use these films as advertisements. Get them thinking that they’ll miss out on the best part of the franchise and not only will they pay money when that part comes around. They’ll also pay to get themselves “primed” for the experience.

4.       Give everyone the spotlight

As fun as Avengers was, the film really should have been called Iron Man and his Lower-Paid Friends. Robert Downey Jr got the best lines, had the most screentime and did the most hero-ing. A Justice League film could build on this by not- I repeat NOT- giving most of the screentime to Batman or Superman. Let us see the Flash, Green Lantern, or (heaven forbid) Wonder Woman take centre stage once in a while.

5.       Don’t be afraid to reboot to make it fit

In case you’re wondering, yes; I am talking about Green Lantern- more specifically, Hal Jordan. He’s an essential part of the DC universe and just to ignore him would be unfaithful to the current culture of DC comics where Green Lantern has had the limelight for years. I know there’s a push to get John  Stewart into a JL movie, but let’s be frank; John Stewart, at this stage, can’t even hold a single book on his own. I seriously doubt he can hold a movie franchise, which is what DC seem to be aiming at. What’s more Kyle Rayner and Guy Gardner just don’t stand out enough to fans. I’m sorry Warner Brothers, but a new Green Lantern film needs to happen.

6.       Get actual DC writers on board

Geoff Johns is considered the quintessential Green Lantern writer. Grant Morrision is still praised for his work on All-Star Superman. Scott Snyder is believed to be the greatest Batman writer of our time. It would be ridiculous to ignore their knowledge of the characters just to have a no-name screenwriter pen a script about a character he barely knows. There is a lot of talent in the DC halls-utilise that.

Now, I’m not going to be so stupid as to suggest that this will put all Marvel fans on permanent suicide watch; but it will help even the playing field. Will DC beat Marvel or will Marvel beat DC? Who cares?!? The real winner in all of this is going to be us; the consumers. This is a great time to be a comics fan. If both companies play their cards right, we’ll be treated to some of the best films of this century, and that’s exciting. But in order to keep that quality going, DC needs to be putting out films that will make Marvel rethink their strategy and adapt to improve (and, of course, vice versa).

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Fan Film Friday: Batman - Puppet Master

This week's offering takes directly from Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. It gives an inventive angle on the origin of the Riddler. Enjoy!


Monday, 27 January 2014

Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench (The New 52)

Anger, monsters and BUBBLES!!!
Aquaman Vol.1: The Trench (The New 52)

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artists: Ivan Reis and Joe Prado.

Collecting Aquaman #1-6

Background Information:

If you’ve watched Robot Chicken or Family Guy, you’re probably a little bit familiar with Aquaman. For years he’s been the unwanted middle child of the DC universe. So far as most of us knew about the sea king, his abilities began and ended at talking to fish; which is great for the The Little Mermaid, not so much for a guy who’s supposed to be an A-list superhero.

Okay, so he does have other abilities, all of which spring from his upbringing; the son of a suface-dweller and the queen of Atlantis, Arthur Curry possess psychic control of marine life the ability to breathe underwater and superhuman strength.

But for some reason, this guy has never been popular. This is mostly because there’s been a lot of assumptions made about him; he’s probably a sea-locked character, and talking to fish is probably a useless power.


In my mind, people drew straws to find out who was going to bring Aquaman into the New 52 universe. I can’t picture anyone actually wanting to take on the least-loved member of the Justice League. If that was the case, then it’s lucky that the short straw was pulled by Geoff Johns. Geoff Johns is a master at reviving characters and making them suddenly relevant – it’s why we now have five different titles set around the Green Lantern family (and for those wondering, I’m including Larfleeze) – and it’s a mastery that he brings out again for Aquaman, giving readers all the reasons why the king of the sea is still alive and kicking, as well as some reasons to give the character the respect he deserves.

And respect ends up being a major theme of The Trench. See, in the New 52, Aquaman spends most of his time on land amongst people who must have seen that one episode of Big Bang Theory where the group decided to cosplay as the Justice League, because nobody- and I mean nobody- takes him seriously. When Aquaman stops a robbery by flipping an armoured car over his head, the cops are shocked that Aquaman’s so far away from water. When he eats fish and chips for lunch, he is harassed by a punk blogger. When he stops monsters from attacking, he’s patted on the back and commended on his “good effort”. It’s amusing to see so much of real-world prejudice reflected in Johns’ writing.

But it’s not the humour of this public perception that is so ingenious about The Trench. Rather, it’s the message that Johns is trying to convey. The jabs at Aquaman aren’t just fun jokes. More often than not, it’s Johns saying “I know what you think about this guy. I know what you think you know about this guy, but give him a chance- I guarantee he’s better than you give him credit for.”

By the end of the book, you may still find yourself not crazy about Aquaman, and that’s okay. Johns even recognises this towards the end of the first story arc, when an onlooking cop remarks “I still don’t like him.”

As great as this public perception of Aquaman is, it’s almost an afterthought when compared with Johns’ reworking of the Aquaman character. Aquaman has plenty of emotional depth along with a supporting cast to let that depth shine. He’s got a very relatable personality and has to make some very difficult decisions throughout the book. It’s Aquaman’s ability to relate to the reader that reminds us just what a master storyteller Geoff Johns is.

Johns resists the urge to bring in the more prolific Aqua-villains at this stage, instead giving us a group of monsters from an area known as The Trench. This was a smart move, as not giving us a “main” bad guy allows for Johns to establish the status quo of the book before letting characters like Ocean Master of Black Manta loose on the world. The creatures are still fun, however- they’re fierce, freaky-looking, and interesting enough to keep the story going.

The artwork by Reis and Prado is fantastic. Reis does an amazing job at conveying Aquaman’s emotions and as a result, you normally don’t need any text to communicate what he’s feeling. The designs here are great. Aquaman looks much better than his Justice League design (the necklace is gone, as is the Wolverine facial hair), his wife,  Mera, looks equally dangerous and regal, and the Trench creatures look as scary and alien-like as they are meant to.

My on complaint about The Trench  is that for all it’s great world-building and status-quo-establishing the actual plot is fairly thin. Aquaman doesn’t seem all that challenged by the Trench and not much happens outside of that storyline. The final two issues are a fairly interesting look at Aquaman in the desert and Mera when on her own, but they feel tacked on to a story with very little suspense in it.

Long story short, though is that Aquaman is relevant again. Geoff Johns brings the character back to its former glory and makes it clear that the king of the sea should be considered a major player in DCs new universe. It gets a four and a half out of five robot chickens.

**** ½

+ Status-quo is interesting and entertaining.

+Artwork is brilliant.

+Aquaman is finally relevant.

-The story is sorta thin.

Alternate Option: Green Lantern: Sinestro

More work by Geoff Johns, because... Geoff Johns.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

A VERY belated Fan Film Friday

Today's offering is an interesting one. Superman: Doomsday is, in essence a miss-mash of various films from the last decade. Thanks to some very clever editing, however, it's been turned into the best Superman fan film of all time.

The most fun in this film is trying to spot which films you recognise in this lot. Cinema buffs, start your engines!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Nightwing Vol.3: Death of the Family (The New 52)

Nightwing Vol. 3: Death of the Family

Why so... not serious... okay, I need a
new line.
Writer: Kyle Higgins

Artists: Eddy Barrows and Andres Guinaldo

Collects: Nightwing #13-18, Batman #17  and an excerpt from the Young Romance one-shot.


Bat-family titles have continually tied-in to whatever Batman story is happening at the time. As a former Robin, Dick Grayson has a strong connection to Batman, and has appeared frequently in Scott Snyder’s stories.

Before we get too far into this review, it’s important to note that Dick Grayson’s story has revolved closely around his former home, Haly’s Circus. Haly’s was the place where Dick grew up and saw his parents killed by ambush. Dick has since come to own the circus and feels the responsibility of quite greatly.


Nightwing’s problem of late has been that it has yet to cut the cord from Snyder’s Batman series. The last volume was connected closely to Batman’s Court of Owls story, and now this one ties into the Death of the Family story arc. While I’m sure the Death of the Family story arc works really well when crossed over all of the Bat-books, but while reading the Nightwing element of this event, it only served to reinforce how badly Nightwing needs to step out on his own. Thankfully, this volume does allow for that to happen in the future and for that I am glad I read it.

So the Joker is back in town, and that sends up warning lights amongst every hero to ever work with Bruce Wayne. The Joker knows who everyone in the Bat-Family is and is out to make them pay for the years of continuity that saw him serve jail time and, at one stage, get his face removed. The Joker has very specific plans for how he’s going to torture everybody Batman’s ever cared for and for Nightwing,  that means attacking Haly’s circus.

The Joker works best when he gives off the vibe of a horror-story villain and Higgins has written him in just that way. Jokers tone in this collection is unsettling. Everything from his word choices when taunting victims to even the way the dialogue drags out words makes your skin crawl. Joker’s methods are also pack plenty of disturbing punch. I won’t spoil them, but it’s the sort of thing that has allowed Joker to stand out as one of those villains who will never get old no matter who plays him in the Batman movies.

If only Nightwing got the same chance to shine.

I came into this volume expecting Dick Greyson to beat the Joker’s sadistic trick on him, to not allow himself to be broken, and definitely to not need saving by Batman. That doesn’t happen here. Instead of being the heroic character that other volumes in this series have portrayed him as, here Nightwing is the damsel in distress along with the rest of the Bat-family; waiting for Batman to rescue them from their own inadequacies.  Batman #17 does an entertaining job, but it didn’t alleviate the sour taste in my mouth that came from knowing that the titular character in the book was written to be deliberately less cool than a character in another book.

The crossover issues are bookended by, at the beginning, a story that shows Nightwing encountering Lady Shiva. This two-issue story arc is mildly entertaining, but far too short to be satisfying. This only enforces my belief that Higgins needs to separate Nightwing from Batman if he hopes to do something great with the character. The Lady Shiva arc feels rushed; likely because Higgins knew he had to write a Death of the Family tie-in.

The worst part of the book, though, comes in the collection’s two concluding issues. In both of these, Nightwing does a lot of moping. The artist change doesn’t help these issues, as the change is made more sudden and jarring by the fact that these two last issues are just uninteresting.

Overall, though, I have high hopes for volume 4. This volume did what it promised. It killed the idea of the Bat-family and now we may see some Nightwing stories that allow Dick to really stretch his wings as he gains some autonomy and as his story no longer needs to be bound to Batman’s. It’s just a pity that the path to it left Nightwing feeling so disempowered. Death of the Family gets three out of five cut cords.


+ Joker is characteristically creepy.

+ Raises hopes for what will happen in the future.

- Nightwing is reduced to victim-status in a book where he should be the hero

- The last two issues are painfully dull.

Alternate Option: Nightwing: Night of the Owls

This is a cross-over volume done right. Nightwing gets the spotlight he needs without detracting from any other character in the Bat-family.

Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood and Vol. 2: Guts (The New 52)

Jumping and hitting things, becasue she's
Wonder Woman 
Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Blood and Vol. 2: Guts (The New 52)

Writer Brian Azzarello

Artists: Cliff Chiang and Tony Akins

Collecting: Wonder Woman #1-6 (Vol. 1) and Wonder Woman #7-12 (Vol.2)

Background Information:

Mythology has influenced many a comic in both Marvel and DC. Thor is based mostly on Nordic mythology, Batman is regularly mistaken for a vampire, and even Superman is often interpreted as a Jesus figure in comics.

Enter Wonder Woman, a princess from an island of Amazonian warrior women who has brought herself into the modern world for unexplained reasons. Her character is deeply rooted in Greek mythology and as such, she has fought Gods often and won.

As such, she could probably beat Thor. Avengers fans, please take a moment to picture one of the most powerful Avengers being beaten by a girl.

On a separate note, please scroll down for what is bound to be an uninteresting flamewar based on whether Marvel or DC is better.


If you’re going to read Blood, you’re going to have to read Guts and probably the third collection in this series. Azzarello has crafted an exceptionally long story arc here- one that I don’t see ending any time soon. Don’t worry about the lack of closure, however, Azzarello, Chiang and Akins have worked together to give us an intriguing tale that looks absolutely amazing.

Blood and Guts follow Wonder Woman as she seeks to protect Zola; a woman who is carrying Zeus’ unborn child. Those who are semi-well-versed in Greek mythology will know that Zeus is the king of the Gods and he’s known for multiple affairs with mortal women. This has the habit of making his wife, Hera very angry, as betrayed spouses often are. The same goes for this book. Hera wants Zola’s unborn child dead and is happy to kill anyone who gets in her way.

While trying to protect Zola, Wonder Woman runs the gauntlet of angry Greek gods from Apollo to Strife. They’re vivid characters who give us the impression that there’s a wider conspiracy going on here. It kinda forces the reader to pit their wits against the gods and that’s equally fun and exciting. Zola is also interesting. Her personality is a little on edge (she has no idea who the kids father is, it could have been a truck driver, a musician, or who knows what), but she’s fun to read and becomes very easy to sympathise with.

If only Wonder Woman’s personality was so interesting. She’s hardly badly written, but it seems like she’s the only character in either of these books who doesn’t really have a voice of her own. When the book’s called Wonder Woman, that’s a problem. Again, saying she’s the blandest character in the book isn’t saying much when the series is so crammed full of awesome characters, but I would have liked to see a personality in Wonder Woman that really stood out. She currently just comes off as a gender-inverted Superman.

The art is great here. Chiang and Akins have developed a distinct style that fits Wonder Woman perfectly- something I can’t say about other New 52 titles which mostly have Jim Lee’s look to them (Aquaman, Nightwing, Teen Titans and Green Lantern- New Guardians are just examples). The books look more like an episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender than anything seen in titles like Justice League, and it suits Wonder Woman really well. Something of that style clearly reflects Wonder Woman’s mythological background. I’m sure there’s some people who think Wonder Woman doesn’t look buff enough here as per Gal Gadot complaints, but I see nothing wrong in a character looking feminine and still not content with being the damsel in distress.

Which brings me to my final point as to why I love the New 52 Wonder Woman. Nowhere do I see a male character that would save everyone were he not so pathetic. There’s no bumbling prince who is too stupid or wimpy to save the day, no male is dead that would otherwise be the hero. Wonder Woman isn’t the hero because there’s nobody better around. She’s a brilliant hero in her own right.

Wonder Woman is a great book that deserves the attention of every reader. It gets a four and a half out of five uninteresting flamewars.

**** ½

+ Beautiful art

+ Awesome Characterisation

- Wonder Woman is the least interesting character in the book

Alternate option: The Batgirl Series

I really think this is the strongest female character in the New 52 right now. Check it out.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Fan Film Friday: The Death of Spiderman

This week we dug up an animated Marvel film. Ultimate Spiderman's death is significant in the comics industry as it's actually a permanent thing. Three or four years down the track, we have never heard from Peter Parker since.

Click on the vid to see how it went down.

Monday, 13 January 2014

X-Men Legacy: Prodigal (Marvel Now)

A legacy of scrapbooking
X-Men Legacy Vol. 1: Prodigal (Marvel NOW)

Writer: Simon Spurrier

Artists: Tan Eng Haut and Jorge Molina

Collects: X-Men Legacy #1-6

Background Information:

The real strength of the X-Men is that you can introduce hundreds of heroes to their books without making the whole thing sound ridiculous. Having people simply born with powers negates the need for origin stories every issue and this means multiple spin-off series can happen at the drop of a hat.

X-Men Legacy is one such series. Where the series used to focus primarily on Professor Charles Xavier, spiritual leader of the X-Men, this new series in Marvel NOW has an entirely different focus.


X-Men Legacy now focuses on Xavier’s son, David Haller. Also known as Legion, Haller is a Scottish raised mutant whose power is... multiple personality disorder. Leave it to the X-Men to make that a superpower instead of a difficult mental disorder.

Okay, I should explain; Legion can harness these multiple personalities in order to harness an array of fairly dangerous mutant powers. It’s possibly the coolest power ever. Unfortunately, Legion’s multiple personalities are... how do I say it... sadistic, evil, tyrants bent on raising hell. In order to contain these personalities, Legion has constructed a mental prison where those personalities are locked away and routinely tortured. Naturally, this order can’t last, and the story really kicks off when Legion’s personalities break free, causing Legion all sorts of trouble; the least of which not being the rampage he takes all over the world.

I hadn’t read any of Simon Spurrier’s work before this, but I gotta say; I’m impressed. The dialogue here is fantastic. Sure, Legion talks like Billy Conely (because that’s apparently how all Scots talk), but the dialogue is witty and fun. Aside from a Scottish charicature, Legion is clearly uneasy about himself and has obvious neglect issues from his father. Legion’s philosophy is also interesting, he believes in Xavier’s vision, but doesn’t agree with the X-Men, who he sees as a group of thugs. The result of this is a complex, conflicted and highly interesting character.

The best moments in the book, though, come when we get a glimpse into Legion’s mind. Legion is left in his own mind to take on his own demons as they try to take him over. These moments are equal parts funny and terrifying. Legion’s mental rogues are diverse both visually and in terms of their personalities. It’s impressive that Spurrier can handle so many voices without making any of them sound uninteresting or like rehashes of other characters.

The art by Haut and Molina is also fantastic. The character designs look as chaotic as you would expect from a book about multiple personalities. Art is best when it convinces us that we are seeing things through the eyes of the characters. Only a few books are really able to do this, but Prodigal does it near-perfectly.

My only complaint about the book is that the title’s main villain, a floating set of eyeballs (yes, you read that right) name Luca , is somewhat overshadowed in this book. He has some truly great moments, but they seem pretty small compared to the battles going on in Legion’s head.

Prodigal marks the beginning of what will likely be an amazing X-Men series. If you can handle a little weird in your comics, definitely give this one a look. It gets a four and a half out of five personalities.

**** ½

+ Great dialogue

+ Wonderful, chaotic art

+ Reading about Legion’s mental world is awesome.

- Main villain is not given the limelight he really deserves.

Alternate Option: X-Men: Schism

If you want a book that focuses more on the core X-Men, you could do worse than this.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Ratings for a Reason

Remember when these meant something other than "street cred"?

I understand the stigma some have around the rating system, especially as an indicator of so-called “quality”. There are plenty of people who won’t see a film with less than a M15+ rating, as though a PG rated film is somehow going to be awful. But these ratings actually mean a lot more- they’re indicators of content that is appropriate or inappropriate for certain ages.

One of my favourite blog posts on IGN comes from  a writer named Tassie Codriver, entitled Rated R for a Reason. Tassie talks about the effectiveness of the recent R18+ rating given to video games in Australia. Tassie makes specific reference to Grand Theft Auto V and asks why parents seem to be ignoring the rating system and getting games like this for gamers who are too young to play it.

It’s a symptom of a greater disease, I think. It’s not just video games where the rating system is ignored. Movies based on comic and cartoon franchises are also subject to this kind of flippant regard for the rating system. If you want examples, just look at the multitude of M15+ (PG13, if you’re in the states) movies that seem directly marketed toward 8 year olds.

My favourite (for lack of a better word) example of this is the Transformers film series directed by Michael Bay. The Transformers on television have always been about one thing: allowing Hasbro to sell Transformers toys to kids. And that’s fine- company’s gotta make a buck. But let’s have a look at movies like Revenge of the Fallen, the second film in the franchise. You only have to get halfway through the film before two dogs have had sex on screen and a small robot has humped the leg of Megan Fox. It's hardly the kind of things you want your kids to watch. And that wouldn’t be an issue were it any other movie. Let’s face it, the American Pie series have all that and more. But we’re not selling American Pie toys at Kmart, whereas toys based on the Transformers movies line the shelves of every toy outlet in the western world.

Because every parent thinks their kids re-enacting
the "leg-humping" scene is so cute!
Most comic book movies aren’t absolved from blame either. I never quite understand why when I go to see The Avengers or The Dark Knight, movies that are not rated for children to watch, and see parents waiting in line with their 7-10 year-old kids. Now, I first saw M15+ movie around age ten- it was Dragonheart. But there is a difference between that and a superhero/comic film.

Firstly, too many adults in the world have this belief that comics are only made for little kids. Their knowledge of comics comes from a 90s episode of The Simpsons where Bart walks out of a comic shop. What they don’t realise is that only a small margin of comics are actually written for children. Most are made for the teenage/adult market. But parents seem to neither be aware of, or even accept that as a fact. Comics were for kids when they were young and nothing has changed since the early 90s.

But that’s not even the biggest problem. This major problem is that many of these M15+ movies are actually marketed towards kids. These movies have toys to sell. The companies need to make a profit and selling toy Batmobiles from Batman Begins with associated action figures. These companies seem to think they can have it both ways- catch the teen and adult audiences who have the most disposable income, and still snag the littlies who they can sell playsets and costumes to.

But these movies are rated M15+ for a reason. They are not movies to be shown to kids, otherwise they would get a PG rating at most. And let’s be honest, plenty of great movies that adults could enjoy have been made without a higher rating (the original Star Wars trilogy comes to mind). M15+ movies are usually too violent, contain themes to mature, or are too vulgar to show to most kids. But M15+ is the new PG it seems, and G, apparently, should never be considered.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that all comic book movies should tone it down, or that they should only go for a PG rating. Certainly, many great movies have come out based on cartoons and comics and have had mature ratings. What I am saying is that movie studios need to make up their minds; are these movies for kids or adults? If they’re made for kids, let’s not give it an M15+ rating or higher. If they’re made for adults, let’s not release the toys, let’s keep Lego out of it and lets not release a cartoon at the same time as the movie.

As much as they would like to think so, movie studios can’t have it both ways. Every other medium understands this, and it’s time for Hollywood to follow suit.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Fan Film Friday: Batman-Nightwing

Okay, let's see how long this lasts.

I'm gonna try and introduce you guys to a new, hopefully good, fan film every week. This week's offering is this Batman: Nightwing. We see Dick Grayson take on Jason Todd; the Red Hood.


Let me know what you think!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Scarlet Spider Vol.3: The Big Leagues/Wolves at the Gates

Scarlet Spider Vol. 3: The Big Leagues

Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting
yourself! Stop hitting yourself!
Writers: Christopher Yost and Eric Burnham

Artists: Khoi Pham, Carlo Barberi

Collecting: Scarlet Spider 16-20 and Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #2

Background Information

Firstly, if you want to find this book online, be aware that many bookseller are listing this collection as Scarlet Spider Volume 3: Wolves at the Gate.

But if you’re trying to figure out who Scarlet Spider is, he’s Kain Parker- basically a literal clone of Peter Parker (spider-powers and all) and used to be evil. A few life-altering events later, Kain finds himself in Houston trying to build a new life and looking after a mysterious young immigrant girl by the name of Aracely; who has displayed psychic powers and a certain freakiness throughout the series.


Yost’s Scarlet Spider ends in its next volume, and frankly, I’m worried. It’s not that this volume is bad per se, but more that there are so many unanswered questions that I’m doubtful that the next volume’s five issues will be able to wrap the story up effectively. Yost has created an intriguing run that has effectively explored the themes of repentance for past sins and resisting your inner demons. Honestly, The Big Leagues does less with these themes than the previous two volumes did and the collection ends up feeling a little stale. Not awful, but definitely not on the same level as the previous volumes.

The Big Leagues starts with a one-shot story where Kain is treated to a rodeo only to have it ambushed by Armadillo- it would have been a fairly pointless story had it not cemented Kain’s relationship with Annabelle Adams. It’s hardly the best way to start off the volume, but it’s a enjoyable one-shot. All the same, it kinda feels like Yost is wasting time with this one. He should be tackling the story that he’s been setting up in the previous volumes, and he just doesn’t do that here.

The second story arc has more substance. If you remember fromthe first volume, Kain owes the assassin’s guild a favour and in The Big Leagues, the guild comes to collect. Kain is tasked with killing Wolverine, something that’s sorta hard, considering the healing factor. When Wolverine is involved in a story, I tend to be less interested. I like Wolverine, but the dude is in way too many comics (if I’m wrong let it rain elephants... is it raining elephants? No? Then don’t say I’m wrong on this one). Thankfully, Yost downplays Wolverine’s involvement in the story by letting Kain actually defeat him, and thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. Expect the assassin’s guild to get pretty messed up by the time Kain’s done with them.

The standout star of this arc is definitely Aracely. She’s continually amusing throughout the story, breaking the tension when it needs breaking the most. Although Aracely has been a constant throughout the series, it was The Big Leagues that convinced me that she really needs to be in her own ongoing.

The collection finishes with the crossover arc into Superior Spider-Man Team-Up. In these two issues Kain meets the Doctor-Octopus-in-Peter-Parker’s-Body-Spider-Man. Kain has no idea that this Peter Parker isn’t Peter Parker, and Doc Ock still has beef with Kain for having killed him long ago (talk about a grudge). While interaction between these two characters in interesting, it still feels like a time-waster. Yost has way too many loose ends to tie up and should be focussing on them. Instead, he creates new loose ends, and I fear they may end up getting swept under the carpet.

In the last volume, the art was fairly inconsistent, not bad, but inconsistent. Un fortunately, that’s not a problem that is fixed in this volume. Here, the art is all over the place. One minute, it’s bold colours and cartoonish proportions, the next it’s highly detailed paints and subdued colours. Neither of these styles are bad, but it’s distracting to read and offsets the feel of the collection. It doesn’t help that issue appears to feature two completely different styles of art between the main story and the epilogue. By the end of the book, I felt like I was reading two very different series, and that’s never a good thing.

What will have me coming back to Scarlet Spider when Volume 4 comes out, however, is the cliffhanger at the end of the volume. I won’t spoil it, but it’s setting up for a big finish to Kain’s adventures. Again though, Yost has a huge job ahead of him, some of the loose ends from the first volume haven’t been wrapped up and volumes 3 and 4 have given us some new twists that need to be wrapped up in one volume, so I’m not sure we’re going to get a satisfying conclusion.

The Big Leagues isn’t a bad book, but it comes off as a teenager who has spent the term playing video games when he has a test in an hour. It’s a fun time-waster, but a time-waster nonetheless. It gets three out of five falling elephants.


+ Aracely is awesome.

+ Quality of the art is quite high.

+ Second story arc is fantastic.

- New plot twists may not be resolved.

- Inconsistent art.

- Two “Time-Waster” story arcs.

Alternate Option: Scarlet Spider: Lone Star

You kinda need to read this and Life After Death in order to get The Big Leagues

Hawkeye, Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon (Marvel Now)

Hawkeye Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon (Marvel NOW)
Shooting arrows off buildings? Yeah,
that's normal...

Writer: Matt Fraction

Artist: David Aja and Javier Pulido

Collects: Hawkeye 1-5 and Young Avengers 6

Owned as trade paperback.

Background Info:

Whatever some comic fans may say about DC’s new 52, they have to admit that financially, it’s been a big success. And what publisher wouldn’t want to jump on a financial success, right?

In response to the new 52, Marvel launched its own “new-reader-friendly” approach called Marvel NOW. Unlike DC’s initiative, which involved a soft reboot of the entire franchise, Marvel took a large slab of their characters and put them in situations so unlike anything that would be considered “normal” for them that is would have the same effect as a reboot.

What? Oh yeah, about Hawkeye. Writer Matt Fraction tells us little more than this about Hawkeye:

“Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, became the greatest sharp-shooter known to man. He then joined the Avengers. This is what he does when he’s not being an avenger. That’s all you need to know.”

And, well, it is.


Sometimes I lament the push for dark and edgy stories. Don’t get me wrong; I loved The Dark Knight as much as the next man, but every time I hear “dark and gritty” get used as an indicator of quality, I die a little inside.

Which is why I’m so glad that Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon doesn’t play the “hardcore” card. My Life as a Weapon seems to find the perfect ground between being totally accessible to adults and being fun and light-hearted.

As suggested in the background story, this is what Clint Barton, or Hawkeye, does on his time off. And if that sounds like an awful story, you’re going to find yourself pleasantly surprised. Clint, it turns out, gets into a lot of trouble on his time off. He gets takes on nasty landlords, on the wrong side of low-level mafias, busts small-time thieves and tries to get his dog a slice of pizza. It’s all pretty inconsequential-sounding stuff, and if this were written and drawn like a regular superhero book, it would probably be a rather pathetic excuse for a normal superhero book.

Thankfully, this isn’t a normal superhero book, in fact, but for the fact that Hawkeye is kinda a superhero, it’s barely a superhero book at all (okay, let’s make a deal; I am never typing “superhero book” again in this review, starting… now).  In fact, My Life as a Weapon plays out more like a classic cop drama. There are elements here that remind me of Starsky and Hutch, Hawaii Five-O, and other dramas that are difficult to ignore. Regular chase scenes, outfits that look less-than-contemporary and a “partners” dynamic happen again and again in Hawkeye, giving the book this great nostalgia. It’s backed up by artwork that looks like it was from a time when comics weren’t in a financial slump, and as such, looks great.

Matt Fraction does an amazing job writing the two main characters in this trade. If you only read this book, you’d be surprised to find out that Hawkeye was a member of a team like the Avengers. He makes frequent mistakes (one issue is even devoted to mistakes he has made), he’s often out of his comfort zone and talks himself into a hole so regularly that he barely seems like a superhero at all. In the process, he becomes one of the most relatable characters in comics. The real money here, though is the way Fraction writes the relationship between Clint and Kate “Younger Hawkeye” Bishop. Fraction manages to create a dialogue between the two of them that has just enough sexual tension to make it funny, but enough brother-and-sister tropes to stop it from being creepy- Kate is a lot younger than Clint, after all. Kate is a great character in her right, she’s somewhat sarcastic, and enjoys making fun of Clint in ways that actually makes you laugh out loud.

Even the other characters in Hawkeye are handled amazingly. The Russian gang that have become popularly known as the “tracksuit draculas” (even though that’s a name they never give themselves in the trade), speak in hilarious broken English and use the word “bro” where a full stop should be. Clint’s neighbours all ooze personality and even Clint’s dog seems to have life in Fraction’s story.

I have spoken about the art briefly, but it needs to be said again: the art is brilliant. The best way I can describe it is that it’s beautifully understated. Not much bother has been taken with intricate details and lighting, and as a result, it’s one of the boldest-looking comics you’ll ever read. Panelling is also done particularly well, allowing for Fraction’s dialogue to take on extra life. It’s rare that artist and writer work this well together.

I only have two complaints about this collection. Firstly, after the first three issues, the quality does seem to drop in both art and story. Hawkeye reads best when it feels like a collection of short stories; when each issue has its own story to tell and doesn’t need to fit an “arc”. This is something that was nailed in the first three issues, but issues 4 and 5 seem to take a step backwards, telling a two part “arc” that isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the beginning of the book. What’s more, a different artist in this arc is definitely noticeable; it’s comparatively lifeless. Second major complaint is the shoehorned Young Avengers 6 that finishes this volume. It investigates the time that Kate and Clint met, but it feel unnecessary and it’s conventional style of art clashes sharply with the understated work in the previous issues.

That said, My Life as a Weapon is the perfect antidote for those tired of conventional comics’ “dark and gritty” approach, and for that it gets for and a half out of five superhero books.


**** ½

+ Superbly written.

+ Light-hearted done right.

+ Art is awesome.

- Quality dips slightly toward the end.

- You don’t need to read the Young Avengers tie-in… like, at all.

Alternate Option: Hawkeye: Little Hits

Not one that I’ve read yet, but the only thing on the market form the big that’s anything like Hawkeye is another volume of Hawkeye.