Monthly Archives: July 2010

Hack/Slash: New Blood, Old Wounds

The downside of the many brief glimpses of plot lines that are not yet quite relevant to Cassandra Hack’s current circumstances is that, not reading the entire storyline in one huge gulp[1], it’s easy to get lost and not quite remember people when they do finally take center stage. The upsides more than make up for that, though; not only is there a sense of a world that matters out there, a world that is moving and changing and preparing to hand nubile slasher-killer Cassie her next big emotional or physical face-plant, but a quick glance at my previous review is usually more than enough to remind me of what was going on. I mean, these are really good T&A horror-films-presented-as-comics, but they’re still T&A horror stories, and only so much depth of plot or theme can be accommodated between panels of girls naked in bathtubs or disrobing prior to exactly the kind of sexual shenanigans that rile up slashers so much in the first place.

In this particular case, the depth of plot that is permissible revolves mostly around revelations about the cult that has made the world the way it is, which is to say: full of dead and yet unkillable slashers that mindlessly stamp out “sin”, by which we tend to mean underage drinking, drug use, or pre-marital sex. Mix that with a handful of those hints about what else is going on that I previously mentioned, a few scenes of light angst for  Cassie and her comrade-in-arms Vlad, and probably an only four-to-one ratio of regular panels to titillating ones, and there’s not really room for anything else in the latest such volume, New Blood, Old Wounds. I know I’m making these sound like a guilty pleasure kind of read, but even if I were guilty about reading them, the truth is, they’re a little bit higher rent than the connotation behind that phrase. Not a lot higher, but a little bit.

[1] I mean, I wouldn’t anyway, but the incomplete nature of the series would make it impossible even were I so inclined.

Ultimate Avengers: The Next Generation

With my completion of The Next Generation, there are no longer any Ultimate Comics for me to read, and I have to wait for new ones to be published. That’s just weird, is all I’m saying. As for the story itself, well, that was pretty good, albeit with a healthy dose of the darkness that the Ultimates have been known for in the past. That said, my ongoing read of old Marvel comics[1] has served me well in caring much about this story, because if I was not aware of the long-standing rivalry between Captain America and the Red Skull, it would have been a lot harder to swallow the idea of this giant terrorist threat that’s been around for decades, only we never mentioned him before now because of how he retired prior to the current wave of genetic superheroism.

Anyway, though that’s the main focus of the story, the stuff going on in the background as set-up for future stories is entirely intriguing, and that’s what I want out of another first volume of a re-reboot: lots of groundwork for awesome futureness. And I guess I’m done, because the plot part of the story is more than good enough for me to not want to carelessly reveal anything that actually happens, and yet the themes are not really all that deep the way they have been in previous Millar Ultimates stories. The weird (and sad) part is that there’s some pretty fertile thematic ground available, if they had chosen to exploit it.

Oh, and I will complain about one thing, which is the random insertion of a ton of new characters that seem unnecessary when there are old characters already sitting there, in some cases filling identical roles. I trust there will be some kind of payoff in future volumes, when these new folk become awesome? Except for the random new Stark brother, as that is just a downright stupid retcon that violates every other published story with Ultimate Tony Stark present, and as far as I know violates all the main continuity stories. (At least, the ones through the spring of ’72.)

[1] I am up to April of 1972!


If all the Discworld books had been like Eric, well, okay, probably most people that I know would still have read them. They are, after all, competently written comedic fantasy. But they wouldn’t talk about them nearly as much as they do, at the least. I mean, as a representation of the kinds of things that tend to happen in Discworld, it is a top notch book. The problem is that, even as short a distance into the series as I am, I’ve come to expect a fair amount more incisive literary and social depth, and never mind the amount I expect from all the buzz that surrounds later books in the series. By contrast to that experience/buzz, this book was a merely[1] funny series of vignettes strung together as a parody of Faust with a horny thirteen-year old in the eponymous role and resident failure (as a wizard, too, but I more meant it with a capital F) Rincewind as the wish-granting demon. If that doesn’t make a lot of sense, well, that’s what the plot is for, yeah?

The sad thing is, I’m totally not joking about it being funny or a really good sample of the kind of thing that happens every day on the Disc. If there’s a moral to my story, it’s this: expectations are a fickle bitch. And as for great expectations, well, they were written by Dickens, which I think tells you everything you need to know.

[1] he says, as though that’s not a reasonably tough accomplishment on its own

Powers: Roleplay

The upside of the second Powers book is that I’m continuing to enjoy the slow reveal of Bendis’ created superhero world, which is chock full of history, dark secrets from the past, and ongoing plots that are heating up in the background toward what I trust will be a violent boil. The downside of Roleplay is that its plot, in which a number of college students in illegal superhero costumes run afoul of the law and a powerful supervillain, was slightly easier to wrap up than any given episode of Law and Order, and mildly disinteresting besides.

Which is not to say the book was bad: all the bits that aren’t essential to this particular current plot were, as I said, fascinating. It just concerns me that if the story arc and history mines are ever played out, what is left will be a disappointment, and it concerns me more that an overly slow reveal of those elements might make equally iffy immediate plots become intolerable before I reach that other point.

All that said, I’m glad I read the first of these books before I read Astro City. Because Bendis’ created superhero world is good, but it wouldn’t stand up very well if I’d had to compare it from the start, and then I’d be depriving myself of what I still assume will be a good story.

Ultimate Spider-Man: The World According to Peter Parker

The only particular problem with The World According to Peter Parker[1] is the name. I mean, it’s not a terrible name, and if it felt as much like the first entry in a series as the name implies, I might well have no complaints. But it’s obvious that there’s some amount of continuity that the reader is behind, regardless of the new imprint[2] the series is being published under. Maybe it’s not obvious that there are twenty-two volumes of continuity, but some amount is definitely detectable.

Everything not the title, though? Good stuff. Six months have passed since the Ultimatum event, which indicates some decent passage since Tony Stark’s one-man war against his stolen technology, and things are kind of getting back to normal. Well, unless you’re Peter Parker, whose life has changed in all manner of unpredictable ways. But that’s what I’m digging the most about this brave new world, is that with so few titles as yet launched in the Ultimate Comics line, Bendis is at least for the moment at the helm of the whole Ultimate universe. So we get to see the fates of some other familiar heroes[3], the violent rise of a new nemesis[4], and generally see the lay of the land, all while leaving room for a very gradual reveal of the changes (and underlying causes thereof) in Peter’s non-hero life. And, okay, I’m willing to admit that for the most part, this actually does work as Volume 1 after all, not just of the new series but of the whole new shebang, even if it was the second story to be told in this recovering universe. Which really is why I’m glad Bendis is the one mostly in charge right now, until more titles have launched.

All that said, the art is surprisingly manga-like. It’s not bad, other than in the case of one character that it might be spoilerish to even mention, but it’s a little jarring in this context. Still, yay for not being bad!

[1] And it may be a Garp [or some other] reference that I’m just not getting?
[2] Is that the right terminology?
[3] And, predictably, more of the awesomeness that is May Parker.
[4] True story: the end of the first issue? Total “Holy shit!” moment.

Blockade Billy

There’s a thing that happens when Stephen King books come out, and it is this: I buy them and read them. Of course, sometimes they slip by me unnoticed for a little while; and for that matter, sometimes they should. Blockade Billy and its companion piece are not bad stories, by any means. I enjoyed them both! And despite the tiny size of the book, I only paid paperback pricing or so, and even for a book that only took about a day to read the lot of, it’s not like I feel ripped off by undersizedness or anything. The only real problem I have is that the two stories (one about the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of an eponymous baseball catcher, the other about an indecent proposal) are both too short to really count as a book, and now I feel like I should be reading the rest of a short story collection that I do not, in fact, have to hand.

Leave ’em wanting more is one thing, but I’m pretty sure leaving ’em entirely unsatisfied is a bad motto. And it’s a pity, because the first story especially was quite good. I should caveat that it was very baseball-heavy, though, as some people who are insane don’t like baseball.

Jack of Fables: The (Nearly) Great Escape

A few volumes ago, I made reference to my knowledge (garnered through the publishing industry) that Jack Horner, the same Jack who climbs beanstalks and kills giants, would be getting his own spin-off comic series soon. That was true, of course, and I’ve finally reached the point in publication order where his book interrupts the straight-through Fables series. (Which, by the way, is wow, long series. And I think it has no end in sight? So that’s a thing.) The Jack of Fables series picks up exactly where his story in the main continuity left off: with Jack once again on the wrong side of Fable law and in pursuit of a new way to re-create his wealth, fame, and generally easy lifestyle that he so richly deserves. Just ask him!

As the title of this first volume implies, he is almost immediately derailed in these intentions by his capture into a home for the dissolution of fables. Being the type who is not generally fond of being forgotten, he immediately sets about getting out. From there, adventure, chaos, and some amount of comedy ensue. The exact amount depends mostly upon just how much you are either willing to accept Jack’s conceit that he really is the most important person anyone he meets will ever meet, or upon how much you’re willing to accept the authors’ backhanded irony within Jack’s conceit. I’m split about halfway down the middle, laughing with him and at him in equal measure. If you find him intolerably boorish (which is fair!) and annoying conceited (which is even moreso), then you’ll probably hate not just the book but the whole series. In which case, I hope the eventual crossover is not much different than when Jack was just one of the characters in the series and will require no other knowledge to follow along with. That would be unfair.


Inception is troubling to me, for a few reasons. There are a lot of reviews floating around the internet today talking about how amazing it is, spending a sentence or three doing so, amping up expectations beyond all reason. And they’re not saying much of anything else. For my part, I guess what is troubling me is that I can’t think of a better way to handle the situation. Because, as much as I hate the expectations game, the movie really is as good as people are saying, and I really don’t want to say anything about it either.

Still, it’s my job and I’m gonna. So. It’s like an Ocean’s Eleven heist caper, done up with sci-fi trappings and a psychological thriller hook. And with an overly dramatic soundtrack that lends an extra dose of portent to every single scene. Honestly, that part is unfortunate because the film as scripted and shot is plenty enough portentous on its own, with all kinds of moral questions to consider and dramatic fates to create or avoid. I’ve seen a few other complaints, for the most part equally nitpicky, and while I understand them, this is the only one that really bothered me.

At the end of the review, my point is this: maybe the movie has been oversold for you, and that’s a damned shame if so. But go see it anyway, because regardless of how you walk out of the theater feeling about it, you’ll regret it if you don’t get to be in on the discussion. Folks will be talking about this one for a while.

Ultimate Iron Man: Armor Wars

My recent history with Iron Man has been an odd one. The original run of comics has become truly terrible over the course of the early ’70s, the second movie was only serviceable, and the two previous solo comics in the Ultimate series were not to my taste. Despite that, I have consistently loved the character of Tony Stark in every format with which I am presented, and certainly he always works great in other, more collaborative works. Why can’t I find a consistently good solo run of Iron Man stories?[1]

Meanwhile, the Ultimate Comics brand has launched[2] in the same continuity as Marvel’s Ultimate series, only different I guess for publishing purposes? In any event, it’s right after the Ultimatum event, complete with destroyed New York City and a real dearth of living superheroes and -villains. This dearth does not include Tony Stark, who has escaped with his life and [in the collapsing economy, still] hundreds of millions of dollars. It does include the realization that his technology has slipped its bonds and there are suddenly people in advanced military suits all over the western world. And it’s Tony’s job (because it’s his responsibility? because of his pride? I guess the real question is whether those concerns are even extricable in his psyche) to get into Armor Wars with them to put at least this small corner of the brave new world aright.

The thing is… I mean, it was pretty good, right? But in all honesty, I think I liked it more because it was better than what I’ve been used to seeing than because it was an objective upgrade to the solo Iron Man oeuvre. At the very least, though, I’m glad this was Tony Stark in the full bloom of his ego instead of another chapter in his iffy origin story.

[1] I should note that I have faith in the badness of the current ’70s run being finite, and frankly also that I expect Iron Man 3 to be pretty great. Y’know, someday.
[2] Well, probably last year in real life, but the graphic novels have only launched over the past few months, which means I am approximately live on these books from here forward.


Oftentimes, I do not read Hugo-nominated novels. Basically, any times. This is not by design, and I’m sure you could prove to me that I’ve read several by pointing things out on a list, but I’m at least never aware of it. I wonder if next year I will start? It would at least be an interesting change of pace. This matters to you because my good friend Skwid lent me Boneshaker, on the premise that it was a steampunk/zombie crossover novel and I would therefore like it. Which is plausibly a fair assumption to make.

So, anyway, I did.

Longer review: yes, it’s Seattle steampunk set in the late 19th Century, yes, it has differently-named zombies, yes, it has wholly gratuitous zeppelin chase scenes. Yes, it has a lightning fast pace that would be well suited to future filming. But at its heart, it’s a family drama about parents and children, husbands and wives, learning how to let go and when to hold on. It sounds insulting to say that if you removed the steampunk zombies and gratuitous zeppelins, I could find this story on the Lifetime Movie Network a dozen times a week, but it isn’t. It isn’t insulting at all, because Cherie Priest made me fail to hate the idea of reading [or watching] that story, and it turns out that (as you’d expect) it’s a pretty good story indeed when told interestingly rather than hand-wringingly. I have of course no idea whether it’s better than the other Hugo-nominated books, nor am I likely to. But yeah, maybe next year?