Friday, September 9, 2011

52 Flavors: DC's New 52 Week 1 and 2 (Part 3)

Flavor # 7:
Justice League International

This one is a tough read, even for a superhero comic veteran such as myself.  After being spoiled by some superhero comics at the turn of the century (The Authority, Stormwatch, Wildcats 3.0, among others) reading old-school-ish superhero comics is very hard for me to do.  Comics that don't push the superhero narrative in its various forms and functions into new levels.  I had to stop reading this comic, find the credits screen and learn who wrote it.  Upon that information, I wasn't surprised.  Dan Jurgens.

Most of you know who Dan Jurgens is without knowing his name.  In the mid-1990s, DC Comics did a MASSIVE COMIC BOOK EVENT THING regarding the Death of Superman.  You remember it, don't you?  I was there, Superman was there, Doomsday was there... Dan Jurgens wrote that comic, I do believe, and drew it, too.  Wikipedia says I'm correct in that belief.  I'm not a big fan of Dan Jurgens, but not because of the Death of Superman storyline EVENT THING, but because he was the guy on writing duties for a horrible comic called "Supmerman/Aliens."  Y'know, the H.R. Giger designed monsters that gestate inside you, then erupt violently from your chest like a maniacal birthing sequence that had two really great films under the directive fingertips of Ridley Scott and James Cameron.  Yeah, those.  It's a superhero comic book oddity, the crossover thing -- although it didn't begin with superheroes, nor is it limited to superheroes.

Continuing: The book begins like something ripped out of WildStorm Production's past with the United Nations piecing together a superhero team of their own.  I'm supposing these guys are getting paid for their heroics, like the original Stormwatch, while everyone else does it for the GREATER GOOD.  Like the old folks from HOT FUZZ.  The book loses me when Batman shows up, after the team is assembled, and basic superheroic stuff goes on.  Y'know, fighting big monsters and such.  It's not the kind of superhero comics I like to read unless it's being done in a manner that blows my brain apart and then reassembles it from scratch.  This is the first comic that hits the definite removal from my brain like a cancerous tumor pile.

Flavor # 8
Animal Man

I'm not too familiar with the character of Animal Man.  I know that Grant Morrison wrote him in the 1990s at one point, and did something pretty interesting with the character, but I've yet to read those comics.  Animal Man is a guy that can tap into a THING which has a name, but I'm forgetting it, and he can take his superpowers from animals attached to that THING.  It's kind of a quirky little skill that could make for some humorous situations and doesn't seem like it would be all that interesting to read about.

But the catch is, Animal Man doesn't really play into the costumed heroics that other superheroes play into all that much.  There's one instance in this first issue where he kind of does, but it's very different.  Animal Man is an animal rights activist instead of the costumed vigilante thing, he's also married with two kids, and is having an independent film made about him, which makes for some very interesting drama in the book.

And it's good.  Did I mention that, yet?  No, well there it is!  Animal Man # 1 is really good.  There seems to be a minor section of the New 52 that read more maturely than the rest of the line does, and it seems that they're still closely tied to the incarnations of the books that were published through DC's mature readers/creator owned label, VERTIGO.  Animal Man is one of them, Swamp Thing is another.  These are the kind of superhero-like comics that one could read if they cannot man up to their juvenile fascinations with Godfigures and Heroes (like the Greek Age) and are embarrassed by reading comics with bright colors, funny costumes, and crazy situations.  Of course, I'm not one of those people, but YOU MIGHT BE.  This is a comic for you.  Animal Man gets into the dark and twisted sort of superhero storytelling techniques towards the end of the book that give it a very ominous tone.  It's a fantastic read that comes highly recommended from me.

Flavor # 9:
Green Arrow

This is another comic that just isn't for me.  Oliver Queen is a rich character in the name of a Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark, that dresses up like a modern day Robin Hood, equipped with techno-gadgetry in the tips of his arrows to fight crime in his spare time.  My only familiarity with the Green Arrow character comes from a brief appearance in Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and  in that book he was a bit different than what I'm reading here.

This one gets the ax from me just like Justice League International does.  Uninteresting, bland superheroics that don't differentiate itself well enough from the comics of the past that were just as bland and uninteresting to get new people excited or interested in what's going on.  Less drama, too much over the top comic book action with lots of talky-talky going on during.  Sometimes I wonder if some of these comic book writers have ever been in a fight.  When a fight is going down, there's no time for discussion.  Yet, regularly in comics, there's full on conversations going on while someone's getting kicked, punched, or shot through the hands with super-arrows.

Green Arrow is a dull arrow-tip launched at a new crowd from a limply crafted bow, entirely missing it's target.

Flavor # 10:
Hawk & Dove

This one is a weird one.  I'm only familiar with the Hawk and Dove characters because I know that's where Rob Liefeld got his start in comics a long time ago.  Before his Marvel work, before New Mutants and X-Force.  Before he stamped my brain with the images of Cable and Deadpool.  Before he, and several other popular artists, left Marvel Comics in search of greener pastures with their own creations and formed Image Comics.  Rob was just a penciller guy on a series called Hawk and Dove.  I never bothered reading it, 'cause it's taken me a very long time in nerd years to get over my nerd dislike for DC Comics' characters.

This one begins with some bland superheroics going on.  The Hawk and Dove characters are stopping a cargo plane filled with zombie-like monsters from crashing into the Washington Monument, an act of terrorism concocted by some deranged mad scientist character, then boils down into some basic drama type stuff that's actually pretty interesting.  The drama unfolds with the two characters discussing their partnership with other individuals.  Hawk's talking about his dad -- and we get a brief flashback of the origins of Hawk and Dove -- and Dove is talking to her boyfriend which happens to be Deadman.  What an odd person to be in a relationship with.  Over the span of the pages, we get some mysteries floating around that are interesting enough to come back for a second issue, that culminate in the arrival of a tan-and-brown costume wearing character that looks a little bit like Hawk who has some obviously bad intentions towards the heroes.

Be warned though, the book is pencilled by Rob Liefeld and if you've never been a fan of Liefeld's work, this probably won't get you started as one.  Me, I've always had a fondness for his anatomically incorrect, teeth-gritting comic art, so I'm perfectly fine with it.  You may not be however. The book is worth a look, though.

And that concludes part three.  It would've been up sooner had I actually written it last night, but I really could not pull myself away from reading a few trade paperbacks that I added to my library recently.  Alan Moore's Complete WildC.A.T.s, Wildcats Volume 4: Battery Park, Wildcats Version 3.0 Year One, and Wildcats Version 3.0 Year Two.  I was completely wrapped up in them that I forced myself to stay awake while I made it through the last volume.  More on those later, I imagine.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

52 Flavors: DC's New 52 Week 1 and 2 (part 2)

Flavor # 3:
Detective Comics

Batman.  Can you believe I used to hate the Batman character?  When I was younger, really young actually, I associated all things Batman to that horrible television show starring Adam West and Burt Ward, so I never read the comics.  I carried this through life, even through Tim Burton's Batman film from 1989, until I finally read Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS sometime in the early 1990s.  How things change!

Detective Comics is one of DC's flagship titles, mostly because of the title, I'm assuming.  DC Comics was named after Detective Comics way back in the day.  And I gotta get this outta my head first and foremost.  I wouldn't have relaunched this title as a Batman only title.  I would have done this, and Action Comics, as big black and white books like Shonen Jump that featured serial detective or action based stories featuring characters of those types.  Batman, the Question, and others for Detective, Superman, Lantern, and other lesser knowns for Action.

Anyway, the cover here is pretty morbid, and I like that.  I am a horror nut after all.  This would make a really awesome horror movie poster at the theatre.  It has Batman posing all menacingly over what very well could be the severed head of the Joker among severed doll heads.  Tony Daniel outdid himself with this cover.  And I haven't mentioned this yet, but DC's new trade dressing is pretty eye catching.

The book opens with a claustrophobic action sequence done in lone, vertical panels that messes with your brain a bit, covered with some thought-boxes from the Bat himself.  The Joker is in a fray with some unknown assailant then moves to a shot of Batman somewhere atop the massive buildings of Gotham City.  It's a very nice opening sequence, I think, 'cause it prepares you for the rest of the book.  The claustrophobic play with the panels and the heavily detailed environments of Gotham City.  The City, I think, is just as much of a character in Batman's world as Batman himself.    Over the course of the twenty or so pages we're given the opening stages of a mystery, which suits the title well.  From previous readings of the former Detective Comics title, I never understood why there were less detective stories going on in that book than straight out Batman slugfests.  And this book is well suited for people who are familiar with other representations of the Batman character, specifically the Christopher Nolan films.  It jumps head first into a mystery featuring the Joker and is done in a very plausible atmosphere.  The Batman story being told here is almost a universe away from what's being told in the Justice League books.  It's gritty, detective work that fits the Batman character and sets up his relationship with Comissioner Gordon and the rest of the Gotham City Police Department.  Another significant detail is during the fight sequence between Batman and the Joker towards the book's closing.  It shows that Batman is just a man and makes mistakes, which is very appreciated for reasons I can't rightly explain.  I like knowing Batman is just a man, not a super bat-god as some people are complaining that they've turned him into again.  The end of the book is such a gruesome shock that I had to re-read it multiple times on two different readings.  I loved it, again the horror fan rears his head, and I'm still very pleased with what I'm looking at.

The single image is so disturbing that it's almost frightening, and the dialogue that goes with it makes it so much more so.  I have no idea what Tony Daniel is planning with this story he's giving to me, but I'm going along with it to the end.  I wanna know.  And no, no spoilers.  You'll have to read it to see what happened, or go somewhere else.  I will say it's one of the most delightful illustrations of the grotesque I've seen since Hellraiser.

Flavor # 4:
Action Comics

I am not a Superman fan.  I never have been, but that's slowly changing, and most of that change is coming courtesy of Grant Morrison.  I had no expectations of this comic except that I was probably going to like it.  I'm a Grant Morrison mark -- or fan if you're not up to wrestling lingo -- and I'm not ashamed to say it.  Morrison's run on New X-Men is my favorite X-Men run ever, his work on All-Star Superman got me to really recognize what's wrong with the character (it isn't him at all, it's the people that write Superman stories) and The Invisibles is in my top five all time favorite comic books ever.

All that said, I did not expect to like this comic as much as I do.  It's simply fantastic.  The cover starts the book off with the tone and pace that it keeps throughout the twenty-something pages.  It depects a younger Superman wearing a blue t-shirt with the Superman S symbol on it, blue jeans and boots, with a much shorter cape than normal being chased by what could be a whole prescient of Metropolis' Police Department.  This is not the costumed Superman we've seen all our lives, this something different.  Something youthful, arrogant; something brash and temperamental; it's something fresh.

There's a second cover, too, which has nothing to do with the story inside, but it's pretty cool looking nevertheless.  It's a Jim Lee drawn cover that looks like it takes inspiration from the old Fleischer cartoons with Superman in his future costume.  And, y'know, I have to say that I really dig the new Superman costume.  I was never a fan of the original, even after I learned its inspirations.  A lot of older comic readers and fans call it things like "Iconic" and all that, but most people I know that don't read comics call it, "Stupid."  I tended to agree with them.  The S is iconic, 'cause, y'know, it's an icon, but the whole of the costume was absurd and outdated since 1940.  It was based on circus strongmen outfits of the 1930s, for Pete's sake, it has no relevancy past its use by date, and it never looked cool.  Jim Lee's redesign of the costume looks more like armor which implies that it has some significance beyond being a superhero costume.  It has more story to it, and, well, I think it looks hella cool.

Anyway, as I said, this is a fresher, younger Superman.  The story, as I understand it, takes place a while before the Justice League story which took place five years ago.  Maybe a few months or so before then.  Superman, or Clark Kent, has only arrived in Metropolis six months before that, so we're getting a look at a Superman just starting out, and he's a far cry from the Boy Scout image that everyone associates with Superman in my non-comic reading circles, or my Marvel only reading circles.  This Superman is brash, and he's ballsy.  If I'm guessing right, Morrison is basing the new Superman on the Old Superman, the original Superman from the late 1930s where didn't go after small time criminals -- like in Superman the Movie's beginning -- and went after something much bigger.  In the opening sequence here, he's going after Mr. Glenmorgan, a corrupt CEO of sorts who's responsible for much more heinous crimes that cat-burglary.    Morrison and Rags Morales paint a really awesome picture that is almost complete -- too complete for a first issue to be believed -- not only of this younger Superman who cannot fly yet, cannot throw planets around, cannot do everything we've learned he can do in the past twenty years since his last reboot, but of Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, the Daily Planet, Metropolis and Lex Luthor.

This is by far my favorite of the New 52 so far, and I recommend it to everyone.  Especially people that hate Superman.

Flavor # 5:
Swamp Thing

This is almost like the mystery meat in a straight on superhero sandwich.  It was totally unexpected, probably completely overlooked, and one-hundred percent worth your time.  It's also where the idea of a reboot-slash-relaunch becomes very fuzzy.  I knew some things were going to be carried over yet not entirely sure what, here it's almost implied that everything Swamp Thing has experienced has.  At least to some extent.

But let's start with the cover!  It's beautiful!  Yanick Paquette delivers a cover that's rich in detail from cover to bottom and lets you know from the beginning that this isn't a superhero story told in the traditional sense, if at all.  I'm no foreigner when it comes to Swamp Thing.  Before I knew he was a comic book character, I was a big fan of the horribly made movie from the 1980s.  When you're a child, you're allowed to like really crappy forms of entertainment.  It's forgivable.  Later on in life, when DC republished them, I became very familiar with Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing.  I loved it because it was so non traditional superhero, yet almost superhero at the same time.  Several of the big names appeared in the book, but what it was about was so distant from the costumed heroics of Superman and Batman and there was this rough touch of horror icing the entire cake, that the end result was quite delicious.

This book, written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Yanick Paquette, seems to invoke some of that old Alan Moore Swamp Thing in it as it goes through it's pages.  It begins with a moment of horror, at least that's how I saw it, and we're off in running at a slow and deliberate pace.  Alec Holland is no longer Swamp Thing, he doubts he ever was, and is working construction instead of his biological science shit he used to do.  Sorry, my brain literally farted upon trying to think of what it was he used to do before the Swamp Thing gig.  The book is methodical compared to the other titles of the relaunch, which is very appreciated because it doesn't let the book let go of its roots in Vertigo.  It's still an alternative type comic that relies on horror type stuff to tell its stories, regardless of the brightly colored Superman appearing in a few issues.

The book is a delightful read, that's for sure, and it's quite mysterious and compelling.  This is a keeper for me.

Flavor # 6:

I really don't have much to say about Batgirl.  I know I should because it's really good, but other than that, I just don't KNOW what to say.

I love that it doesn't forget nor does it forgive.  This is Barbara Gordon as Batgirl.  Without trying to ruin anything for anyone, Barbara Gordon hasn't been Batgirl since the 1980s, after a crippling gunshot delivered to her by the Joker in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke.  She's served as Oracle, the eyes and ears of the digital age for Batman and all related Bat-books for the longest time.  Here she is, back on her feet, back in the costumed for good time romps, but the book hasn't forgotten.  The events that took away her legs are still fresh in her mind, they still happened, and even cause her to choke up towards the end of the book during its finale.  Gail Simone handles the subject matter with amazing skill and pulls off a book that's not only really well written, really well drawn, but is incredibly fun.

As I said, I don't have a lot to say about this comic other than I really did like it and enjoy it, and I feel bad for not being able to say more.  But it's one you should read.  You should definitely read Batgirl.  And keep reading it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

52 Flavors: DC's New 52 Week 1 and 2 (Part 1)

Welcome to the 21st Century!

It's eleven years late, but it's only now that I'm starting to feel the ripples of that time change.  The futuristic 21st Century arrived and I had virtually nothing to show for it.  No flying car, no time-travelling DeLoreon, no Virtual Reality; but eleven years later and I have a game system that blows my mind on a regular basis and delivers virtual realities I'm fond of visiting; I have super 1080p HD visuals that run at 120hz per second that emulates another form of virtual reality by playing tricks with my eyes -- I feel like I'm actually on the set more often than not -- and I have a cell phone that's one part Star Trek communication device and one part DO EVERYTHING.  While it won't give me medical readouts of people just by pointing it at them, it does allow me to watch movies (also in 1080p), read books, socialize on all sorts of networks, text, call, email... and read comics.

Yes, my definition of now living in the 21st Century is the ability to read comics on my phone and with the conception and birth of day-and-date releases, the 21st Century has come to life on my favorite hand held device in a way I never imagined.

I'm a 21st Century Comic Book Reader.

Done are the days of making weekly trips to the comic shops to get my fix.  Now I just tap the phone's screen a couple of times and the comics come to me!  No more straining myself to get a sold out issue, no more driving from the tip top of Northern Utah to the Southern most point of Salt Lake City to find a copy of Whatever Man # 182 with the SUPERAWESOMECOLLECTABLE cover.  No more let downs of not getting my favorite comic, no more disappointments.

Do I miss the comic shops?  Certainly.  But ever since the birth of the 21st Century I've had my own personal Crisis of Infinite Comic Shops where the evil villains overtook my time and replaced it with not-enough time.  I couldn't make it to the comic shops regularly because of these villains and even the superpowers of the Pull List Reserve System couldn't stop them.  I had deemed it a time to hang up the single issues and went trades only, it seemed the only way to stop them.  But now, the 21st Century has brought the comics to me, and the Crisis has been eliminated.  Permanently.

And it's great!  It brings a great amount of delight into my life, being able to get things delivered right to my phone.  Any time, anywhere, I can pick up the device, browse the comics and in a moment have it ready to read.  It comes in real handy at movie theaters while waiting for the room to go dark and the picture to begin.  Long trips or car rides, being somewhere I don't want to be; at any moment I can have a new comic, and that new comic will bring me joy -- whether it's bad or good.  And there are other delights, too!  One such delight of digital comics is storage.  No more long boxes, bags, boards, or single issues filling up the continuously shrinking space in the house I live in.  It's all stored for me in the magical nothingness of digital media.

Do not fret!  I'm not 100% pro-digital.  I'm very pro-trade paperback, and I buy them regularly.  By the metric shitton.  Preferably in hardcover.  Tomorrow, for instance, the Year Round Santa Clausmen (or UPS as most people call them) are bringing me three epic tomes of Comics Past that I've been eyeballing for a long time: The Complete Alan Moore WildC.A.T.s, Wildcats Version 3.0 Year One and 3.0 Year Two.  Excitement!

As a result of me being a 21st Century Comic Book Reader, I'm going to drop my thoughts on the first real experiment in 21st Century Comics: DC's New 52.  The set up is easy: DC's head honchos thought it was time to relaunch the entire line of their superhero comics.  They've called it a relaunch or a soft-reboot, essentially saying they're starting over from the beginning, but not really.  Only some of the books are effected by a complete overhaul, other's still remember things of years gone by.  But each of the New 52 Flavors of DC Comics has a different taste to me and I'm going to describe those tastes to you!

Don't you feel lucky?

Flavor # 1:
Justice League

I feel stupid about this comic.  I really do.  I've read this book three times now and the first two times I thought it was a really bad example of superhero comics.  Now, I have to publicly retract everything I've said about this comic because I obviously don't know how to read.  I stated that it felt like generic superheroics without any buildup to anything.  Well, this IS the buildup, apparently.  I missed a single caption in the comic twice over that change the overall dynamic of the story I was reading.  A single caption that read "FIVE YEARS AGO".  I really can't explain how that single caption changed the entire book for me, but it did!  And I feel like an ass about it.  A complete and total ass.

This is the set up of how the Justice League came together, and while it still does lack in some areas of world establishment and character buildup, the comic by itself doesn't really nearly as bad as I had earlier exclaimed.  Because of that one caption box.  The dialogues between Green Lantern and Batman were more interesting, and funny, and the entire premise became something a lot more tolerable.  While it definitely isn't one of the best superhero comics I've ever read, it's very well done for what it is.

I still think this comic would've been better read at the end of the relaunch.  Making it the 52nd instead of the first would've allowed everyone to relearn the DC Universe as it is currently being presented and better know the characters of Batman and Hal Jordan as the Green Lantern, as well as let us know full force why the Gotham City Police Department's Death Troops (I call them that because of the Death's Mask faceplates they wear that look like they just fell out of Modern Warfare 2O) are shooting at Batman.  But I do apologize for not taking my time with the book and reading it so quickly, then giving a false opinion of it.

But, in order to save nerdface, I have to say something negative about the book.  So, I'm targeting the secondary, variant cover drawn by Dave Finch.  Where Jim Lee's cover is a symbol of the second coming (of sorts) of DC's superheroes, Finch's is this really weird, darkly shaded cover that really makes no sense in the context of the stories being told.  Six of the seven members of the League are standing in front of the seventh member, Superman, who is flying above them I'm assuming, but he doesn't look like it.  All the characters have this dead-serious, menacing expression on their face that, when accompanied by the dark shading, make them look evil instead of the heroes we know them as.  Then there's Superman.  He looks, with his arms and fingers stretched out, like a deranged, maniacal puppeteer and the other six members look like his equally maniacal marionettes.  It's a very weird image, and a very horrible cover.  Yikes!

Flavor # 2

I'm doing these in the order that I read them.  Just so you know.

I just read this comic a second time with a more open mind.  Shedding off the history of a comic I enjoyed as much as I did with Stormwatch and, eventually, the Authority is pretty hard.  You have to forget a lot of stuff and start over from scratch.  A lot of the things that were very intergral issues and components to characters is no longer there.  I'm reading these characters for the first time again.  Which both sucks and wasn't too bad.

I was meh when I first read it because of that detachment issue.  But after just reading it a second time, it's really not that bad at all.  There are some moments that are hard to wrap my head around.  The Engineer is one of them.  They just show her, they don't really get into who she is at all.  Hawksmoor is another -- who looks goofy as shit in this comic -- who kind of explains his powers, but not the trauma he went through to get them.  There's the Century Babies that makes no sense whatsoever if you've never read the previous Stormwatch comics, or the Authority, or Planetary.  And then there's Apollo and the Midnighter.  Both are represented here in a good way, they're not negative depictions of the characters.  My issue is that there there to begin with, only because the characters of the previous works went through HELL.  Without that HELL, brought upon them by Henry Bendix, it makes the new versions of them completely new and almost mysterious.  I don't know if I'm comfortable with it, quite yet.

The premise is a bit of a mix between the old Ellis Stormwatch, the old Ellis Authority, and the early WildC.A.T.s comics. Stormwatch is a secret team of superfolks that's been fighting off aliens on this planet for centuries.  There's a brief history run down of that stuff and there's a few glimpses of the Demon and some other characters that hints at a much longer, and stranger (a tip of the hat to Planetary, maybe?) history than the five year one that DC's giving us now.

Second reading of the book definitely has me curious for more.  I wanna know if these characters share more with their WildStorm counterparts than powers, names and visuals.  I hope so.  I miss Ellis' Stormwatch and the Authority.  I also hope that Apollo and the Midnighter are homosexual as they were positive images during Ellis run, I thought.  I think Millar took that a bit too far and over the top at times, but even during his run they were positive homosexual characters.  We'll see, I suppose.

I didn't quite intend for this blog to be simultaneously long and short at the same time.  I only got through two of the books of the thirteen I bought.  But this has taken me almost two hours to write, so I think I'm going to close it off here and finish the rest of the books throughout the week.

Come back tomorrow and I'll have my thoughts on Detective Comics # 1, Action Comics # 1, Swamp Thing # 1, and Batgirl # 1.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bits and Pieces 13: Open With the Pull Tab

Use By Date

I don't know.  I really don't. 

When the New 52 was first announced -- DC Comics' soft reboot of their entire superhero line -- I was kind of excited for the possibilities of what was coming.  A fresh new start for the oldest superhero universe in American comics, a breeding ground of new possibilities and stories to be told; a brand new day.

Yet, when the first day came, August 31st, 2011, of this relaunch and the first comic given to us comic book readers was on the shelves, or, as it is in my case, available for download on the excellent Comixology app for my delightful little pocket device of preference, the end result left me wondering what had happened.

JLA # 1 (short for Justice League of America) reads like a very badly written fan-fiction version of the Justice League, but drawn by Jim Lee.  That shouldn't be the case, as Geoff Johns, the author of this little episode, is anything but a bad writer.  He's really good.  Yet for this particular comic book he gave us a team book with no team, a hit-the-ground-running adventure with no build up, no set up, no attempt at rebuilding the DC Universe for the potential new readers that are supposed to be flocking in droves to this new comic (which evidently happened).  It features Batman chasing some kind of glowy creature, being shot at by Gotham City PD, and running into the Green Lantern midway through.  Lantern joins him in his chase after this glowy creature only for the creature to blow itself up, then the duo runs to Metropolis where Lantern gets sucker punched by Superman.  It's nonsensical, it's light reading in the greatest sense but in that it loses the sense of awe that a superhero comic should have.  It's a very badly written comic by people that know better.

Almost twenty years ago, Jim Lee was involved in the Image Comics Exodus with his little comic book WildC.A.T.s with co-author Brandon Choi.  This book was accused of being derivative of Lee's former work on X-Men, which it may or may not have been, but I never saw it.  The book unraveled at a kinetic pace, rapid fast, but even there, in that single issue of a book that so many people hated was a better story being told than what we saw in JLA # 1, nineteen years later.

JLA # 1 reads as though it's the next adventure of several characters that everyone should already know, but this is being retold for the first time.  The soft reboot relaunch rewhatever reset the DC Universe, so long time readers and new readers alike are being exposed to Batman, Green Lantern and Superman again for the first time again.  I'm thinking that this little book, the first chapter in this universe-wide reboot, is meant to be read after the rest of the 52 have been read.  My theory is that this book should not have been read (or published) until the other 51 books have been read.  I'm going to attempt this at the beginning of October -- or whenever -- I get those 51 issues read, money provided, to see if I'm right about it.  I think I am.

Then again, maybe I'm just not the target audience of this reboot; this relaunch or rebirth of an entire universe.  I've been reading comics for a very long time now, and I've seen, literally, every trick the superhero genre has to offer thus far.  In this new age of superhero comics, the one that comes after the nastiness of the Dark Age and everything wonderful that lead up to this point (including my favorite Post Costume Age that gets very little attention), that this stuff is just not for me.  This new age being marked by the reboot (and a few other new #1s being issued by Marvel Comics) could very well be for a younger audience, or an audience only familiar with the superheroes through their big, silver screen variations.  Even with that in mind, I really can't see a justifiable reason for the likes of Geoff Johns or Jim Lee to dumb down their storytelling techniques and skills to appeal to a wider audience.

I suppose we'll see.  I actually told myself that JLA # 2 wasn't a comic I was going to buying because of the lackluster performance given to me in the first issue.  However, Jim Lee posted the pencils of a two-page spread of JLA # 2 featuring Batman and Superman and it looks brilliant.  And me, ever the artnut, really wants to see this spread inked by Scott Williams and colored by Alex Sinclair.  In the end, we shall see.

It's Official, You Suck

I remember getting Mortal Kombat 3 for my home console of choice back when it was released 199whenever.  I had already spent a high-school fortune on the arcade edition of the game at Aladdin's Castle, learning combos, playing other people, and performing fatalities.  At that time it was almost impossible to play a single player game to the end without someone else jumping in and taking you to the edge of your competitive skills.  I love playing people within proximity of myself (I despise online play because it's not the same as chilling at home or in the arcades playing other people), but I have this thing about the fiction of fighting games.  I love playing these games by myself, learning the stories of each character, and finishing the game with each of the characters available.

It wasn't until I got Mortal Kombat 3 (the first iteration, not Ultimate or Mortal Kombat Trilogy) home on a console I can't even remember (was it the PlayStation? probably) that I learned of the rude taunts of the game's boss character, Shao Kahn.  I knew of them from Mortal Kombat II, having played that game on the Super Nintendo for an unrecordable amount of hours, but this was something different.  There was the Mortal Kombat II taunts, of course, but then there was this one little line that both made me laugh out loud while playing games by myself and feel a little insulted.

"It's official, you suck!" shouted the sword and sorcery dressed Emperor of Outworld as he kicked my ass completely.

That taunt, once again, reared it's nasty head with the new Mortal Kombat released earlier this year.  This time, I scoffed, and delivered him multiple defeats as cheaply as I could.  Revenge was mine after the horrible ass beatings that Shao Kahn put on me in Mortal Kombat Trilogy -- one of the games with the worst AI opponents I'd ever challenged.

However, the joyous nature of my revenge from all those years was relatively short lived.  Yes, I had defeated Shao Kahn multiple times in the new Mortal Kombat game on several different modes of play.  I lost several battles along the way, I was even murdered by his hands with two relatively grotesque fatalities on occasion, but for the most part I told the Conan wannabe who was the real boss in his massive, Colosseum-like arena.  Then the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection came out a few weeks ago and once again the taunt echoed in my ears as my digital avatar's face was pounded into a red mess.  Yet, the taunt wasn't being said by the Emperor Shao Kahn this time, at least not at first.  Oh, no.  It was echoing in my own ears from those memories of Mortal Kombat 3's first release on that unrememberable console as EVERYONE beat my ass into a red oblivion.  I resulted in pushing the difficulty down to the easiest setting imaginable for the game, and yet, the AI still knew how I was going to perform better than I did.  It knew the moves before I knew I was going to perform them.  It knew I was going to take flight to deliver an airbased arsenal of combatitive fury and promptly took to the air and knocked me out of it like a rabid surface to air missile.  PEW WOOSH BOOM _______ WINS.  That's how my first assault on the Arcade Kollection went for almost a week.

It almost seems that a lot of developers of games that primarily focus on the multiplayer aspect of the game (such as fighting games often do) forget about the single player aspect of that same game and either go out of their way to make it as unfun as possible, or simply neglect the fun factor of the game at all.  Games are supposed to be challenging, I completely agree with that, but when the challenge is to take down an opponent that can and will constantly render your entire offense moot and useless, it becomes unfun.

Unfun is no fun; unfun is bullshit.

However, I was fed up with the bullshit this morning.  After suffering the onslaught of a full-fledged migrainal attack at 9:30 this morning and sleeping the fucker off until 4:35 PM, I turned the PlayStation 3 on, picked up the military green DualShock controller, and loaded up the game.  I selected Mortal Kombat first, and picked Sub-Zero.  It's always Sub-Zero with me, even though Scorpion is my favorite of the two.  I don't understand that myself.  And I played through Mortal Kombat until it submitted to me the way I wanted it to.  I made it sit, I made it lay down, and I made it roll over and, inevitably, play fucking dead.  I had to result to a cheap tactic of hitting the opponents, especially Goro, with as many jump kicks as possible, but finally it succumbed to my offenses and the game's credits rolled.

[My biggest complaint about the Arcade Kollection's AI is that I've played newer games on their hardest difficulty settings, including the new Mortal Kombat, with the same resistance.]

Then it was on to Mortal Kombat II.  I decided to take a different route with the second feature by selecting Kitana instead of my favored ice-cold assassin.  Kitana was a favorite of mine when Mortal Kombat II hit the 'cades back in the day, and I used her diligently to destroy the arcade mode of the console version on the Super Nintendo.  Kitana's dehabilitating raising fan attack makes for a good use if the AI's defenses aren't ready for it.  The opponents put up their attacks and several continues later, the cast of Mortal Kombat II fell to Kitana's deadly fans and I was facing off against Kintaro and, subsequently, Shao Kahn with his cruel taunt.  Unfortunately for them, I remembered fully Kitana's cheap as hell tactics against these two, and both fell with a single attempt.

Two down, one to go.

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, like Mortal Kombat 3 before it, and Mortal Kombat Trilogy after it, has the cheapest AI of the series.  As difficult as the two games were before it, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3's AI controlled opponents know everything you're going to do before you can even think about doing it.  There's a term called SNK Boss Syndrome out there in this fabulous world that was coined to describe the insane difficulties of SNK's fighting game bosses.  Rugal Bernstein, Geese Howard, these guys were relentless in their difficulty.  It seems that Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3's base characters contracted this apparently contagious syndrome and it's on full display after your first three wins in the game.  Unfortunately for me, the character that I ended up fighting against when the SNK Boss Syndrome kicked in was Jade with her projectile-proof glowy attacks and all that fun stuff. I lost count on how many continues was necessary for me to reach the first boss of the game, but I was changing characters left and right.  Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Smoke, Kitana and Kabal.  After almost acing through the Endurance Match -- where you fight against two opponents with one health bar, in this instance it was Jade and Reptile -- I met the biggest asshole of Mortal Kombat's elaborate mythology that isn't Shao Kahn: Motaro.  The centaur bastard of unrelenting offense.  It took several continues to get the rhythm of the bastard which was jump kick, jump kick, jump kick.  No other offense I could muster up was successful, but this aerial onslaught seemed to work until he was done.  Then Shao Kahn.  Shao Kahn and his bastard taunt which came again and again and again, and seemed to accompany every loss when the continue option was presented.

Finally, he fell, too.  A cheap tactic using Scorpion's spear attack over and over and over until the big bastard fell and the game was over.

After what felt like a literal lifetime, I learned that only two hours had passed.  Two hours of unrelenting martial arts supernature for the struggle of our very dimension and I was done.

I loved these games when I was younger, and here they are, arcade perfect in almost every way.  Yet, because of the AI difficulties I'm not entirely sure I can resume playing them with the same adoration I had almost twenty years ago.  Perhaps I'm just getting too old.  Perhaps again, the digital gloves need to be hung up and retired and greener pastures of easier explorations of my digital fascination with martial arts need to be explored.  Perhaps still, that's even more bullshit and I just need to avoid games with ridiculously cheap AI.

Earlier this summer I attempted to take on Marvel vs. Capcom 3's hardest difficulty setting and found it too relentless for me to tackle.  I'm not particularly good at the vs. game series in terms of consciously putting workable extravagant combinations together that also look quite beautiful, but watching the characters I've chosen being ritually destroyed by such combos at the hands of AI opponents had proven too much for me to handle and the unfun began and I gave it up. Until a couple of weeks ago.  I attempted it again and made the AI my bitch by adopting my own version of SNK Boss Syndrome by using Sentinel and repeating the same attack over and over again.  If the computer can do it, and it works for them, why can't I?  The game proved to be less difficult this way and I felt somewhat accomplished in achieving the objective.

But, playing a series of games almost twenty years old on the easiest difficulty and having the same issues with the AI and resulting to the same cheap tactics that do not expand my interest or skills within the game? 

Well, that just sucks.

So, I say to you, developers of the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection:

"It's official, you suck."