Sunday, September 16, 2012

Remembering a True Superhero

Today in parks, school grounds and community spaces around the world people of all walks of life took part in the annual Terry Fox Run for cancer research. For thirty-two years this charity event has been a staple of early autumns in Canada and continues to grow each year with one goal: to raise money for cancer research. 
Terry Fox runs through Toronto in July 1982.
Terry Fox was a superhero in the truest sense of the word. Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in July 1958, Terry grew up in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia and was from an early age a gifted athlete. But in 1977 at aged 18 he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma and was forced to undergo chemotherapy to save his life. What's worse, he also needed to have his right leg amputated. Never one to quit, Terry was reading an article about an amputee runner of the New York City Marathon when he got an idea: he would run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. 

After months of training, it was on a cold April day in 1980 when Terry dipped his prosthetic leg into the Atlantic Ocean at St. John's and started to run the cold roads of Newfoundland. His plan was to run a marathon a day -- 42 kilometres (26 miles) -- until he had crossed the second largest country in the world. Initially discouraged, he soon arrived in Port aux Basques on the south shore of that rocky province where he received a hero's welcome and the equivalent of a dollar from everyone in the town. It was there that Terry and his small team set about their new goal: one dollar from every Canadian. 
Terry on University Avenue in Toronto
Sadly, Terry did not reach his goal. After 143 days and 5,373 kilometres (3,339 miles) he was forced to abandon his run on the north shore of Lake Superior outside of the city of Thunder Bay, Ontario. The cancer, believed to have been stopped, had metastasised in his lungs and he was forced to urgently seek more chemotherapy to stop it.  Rushed back to his hospital in British Columbia, Terry started his new treatments. While at the hospital he was given the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civilian honour and named Canadian sportsman of the year. On June 28, 1981 at the age of 22 years Terry Fox died. 

Terry Fox didn't have lasers for eyes or claws in his hands. He was simply a young man who wanted to make a difference in the world. He experienced the terrible event of being diagnosed with cancer and decided to make good of that experience. To date the Terry Fox Foundation says that over $600 million dollars have been raised at Terry Fox Runs around the world. That, in my books, is the act of a true superhero and as a cancer survivor myself I will always be grateful for both the actions of Terry Fox and the thousands of people each year who carry on with his work. Terry Fox: a true SUPERHERO.

WGTB reviews AvX #11

(Warning: Spoilers Throughout)

Wednesday was probably the worst day for spoilers I've ever experienced. I woke up, checked Facebook and there it was: news that Professor Xavier had died. This was revealed because the comic-related media I follow mentioned the New York Post story about the events of Avengers vs X-Men #11. Later, after buying the comic book at 5:30 pm and going to the gym, I saw on a 24-hour news station that: 'Professor X, long-time leader of comic's X-Men has been killed by his protege, Cyclops'. I'm not kidding. It's like it was following me around! Still, I thought I'd write a review about the eleventh issue of Marvel’s summer event anyway.
 Marvel's Avengers vs X-Men #11 (November 2012) Writing by Brian Michael Bendis, pencils by Olivier Coipel and inks by Mark Morales. $3.99
The story begins with the X-Men seeking refuge from the Avengers, having realised that siding with the Phoenix Five was a major error in judgment. Shortly afterwards, Cyclops took the last half of the Phoenix Force from Emma Frost and assumes all of that personality changing extra-terrestrial power. It then ends with a confrontation between Xavier and Cyclops and the result mentioned above. 
Magneto from Avengers vs. X-Men #11 (November 2012)
I’ve enjoyed this series and have read it as we're supposed to read summer events: like the big-budget 'popcorn' comic books they are. But at the same time this issue disappointed me because its content was too important for the lens I was supposed to view it through. What I mean is Xavier did not die in a way worthy of one of the most important and iconic comic book characters of all time. Sure, he was surrounded by members of the X-Men and Avengers (including a Carol Danvers dressed in the old Ms. Marvel costume), but there should have been something more to his parting than mere paternal angst and Phoenix-charged murder.
Cyclops assumes the remaining Phoenix Force from Emma Frost in Avengers vs X-Men #11 (November 2012)
Now we all know that comic book deaths are a regular occurrence. But there has been a few that have had true meaning. The first Captain Marvel died of cancer in Jim Starlin's The Death of Captain Marvel (1982) and his suffering gave the death true importance and gravitas. As was the death of Uncle Ben in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962). While he was not a super-hero per se, the impact of Benjamin Parker dying completely altered Peter Parker's way of seeing the world and gave us Spider-Man. But in the case of AvX #11, I'm not sure Professor X's death will have that same meaning in the Marvel Universe. Marvel NOW! may prove me wrong, but #11 left me with a feeling that Xavier's death was a hollow marketing ploy.   
Professor X welcomes the X-Men to join the Avengers in Avengers vs X-Men #11 (November 2012)
Which brings me to a larger chronologically-based critique of AvX.  As said earlier, I've enjoyed this series on the whole. But at the same time feel it could have been done in less time than it has taken. The art has been great and I especially enjoyed Oliver Coipel's and Mark Morales' work in this most recent issue. But there just hasn't been enough story depth in this series to really leave me satisfied. Where was Hope Summers in #11 and why has the story shifted away from her? Why was the Hulk called in and not used? This series could easily have been cut down two or maybe four issues with more concise storytelling.
Cyclops with the full Phoenix power in Avengers vs X-Men #11 (November 2012)

If you've read this blog before you know that I don't usually give bad reviews. I'm not a hostile fanboy and never like slamming other people's work unless they really deserve it. Moreover, Brain Michael Bendis and the other Marvel architects working on this series are better comic book writers than I'll ever pretend to be. But this issue, while being okay, was not up to the standard I had hoped. The art was great, but the story was lacking and because of that I have to give it one of the lowest ratings I ever have. If you disagree, please leave a comment. Otherwise, thanks for reading. 
2.5/5 STARS     

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We Will Never Forget

The comic book world owes a great deal to the City of New York. It was here that two wide-eyed kids from Cleveland sent their creative ideas, eventually giving the world Superman. It’s also the place where Will Eisner, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first took up their craft. In short, it is the true home of comic books. 

Here's a panel from Spider-Man. I think it's a fitting expression of the resiliency and strength that is New York City and would like to use it to pay tribute to that great Metropolis on this anniversary of 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, The Pentagon and Flight 93. We will never forget. 
From Marvel's Spider-Man Vol. 1 #26 (September 1992)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

WGTB reviews Phantom Stranger

Unlike most of DC's books during 'Zero Month', The Phantom Stranger #0 is the start an ongoing series with #1 arriving in early October. Not being a big ghost/vampire comics fan, I'm not normally one to pick up supernatural books. Yet for some reason the Phantom Stranger has always fascinated me and I always enjoy reading his stories when I can. 
(Warning: some spoilers below)
DC Comic's Phantom Stranger Vol. #3 #0 (November 2012) Written by Dan Didio, Art by Brent Anderson and Inks by Scott Hanna. $2.99
Maybe it's because the Phantom Stranger is one of DC’s most established yet mysterious characters. First appearing in The Phantom Stranger #1 (September 1952) he was created by Silver Age legends John Broome and Carmine Infantino, and is one of those comic characters who seems to pop up every decade or so in an ongoing or mini-series. All along he's had a relatively simple yet effective modus operandi: appearing to someone in need of assistance and providing them with some guidance before they make a catastrophic error in judgment.  
Image from The Phantom Stranger #34 (Vol. #2 December 1974) This issue saw the Stranger showing up bandy wits with Organized Crime and included a cyborg. Classic Bronze Age.
Which is how The Phantom Stranger #0 proceeds for the most part. It begins with a short account of the trial found in The New 52 Free Comic Book Day Special Edition #1 in which it is explained where the Stranger received his supernatural abilities and further establishes his origins in that era of time and area of geography where people spoke Aramaic. At his trial he is condemned by the Council of Wizards to wear silver coins around his neck and the humble robe of the person he betrayed. The Roman Catholic in me saw this as pretty obvious, but at the same time it wasn't so over the top as to be a distraction. That said, I would have preferred his origins were not tied to a certain religious creed-story which might make him less accessible to people not of that specific religious bent. But the point is made: the Stranger did a terrible wrong to someone who was both good and had powerful friends. 

From DC's The Phantom Stranger #0 (Vol. #3 November 2012)
We then fast forward to contemporary times where the Stranger helps someone about to make a grievous error. Because I wasn't able to get the Free Comic Book Day edition, I wasn't exactly up to speed with everything in this previous Stranger story. But that wasn't too problematic as the plot generally followed the familiar pattern of many The Phantom Stranger stories, except towards the conclusion we see another DC supernatural stalwart and a conflict is set up between the two. This will undoubtedly be carried forward in the next issue.

For the most part I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to the series. While Dan Didio's writing didn’t knock my socks off, it was neat seeing the account of the Stranger’s origins, something DC has long kept close to their chest. As mentioned, the Jesus connection was a little too religious-specific for my tastes, but that aside, it was an okay origin story. Long-time comic book artist Brent Anderson's work was mature in its tone and despite the fact that there wasn't anything to exclaim 'Wow!' about in art, it captured the cool and creepy of the protagonist and worked well with the mature theme of the story. 
Great Modern Age art from Mike Mignola in The Phantom Stranger #1 (Vol. #3 October 1987) In this story the Stranger heads to Gotham City. 
So pick up Phantom Stranger #0 and see if you like it. I know you have already if you're a fan, but for non-fans the $2.99 price-point makes it an easy purchase for a brand new series. I can't guarantee you'll get past issue two or three, but #0 is a decent story to start it off and The Phantom Stranger may just be a strong addition to the cache of DC's supernatural books. 


Monday, September 3, 2012

WGTB reviews Justice League #12

I’ve been reading Justice League somewhat regularly for the first year of the New 52. But because of the higher price-point and my somewhat limited budget, there had been a couple issues that I missed. This was remedied at FanExpo Canada two weekends ago, when I was fortunate to find all the missing back issues and I'm very glad I did. This has been an overall enjoyable comic since it started the New 52, and I was quite pleased to hear recently that Geoff Johns and David Finch will be working on another Justice League title – Justice League of America – in the near future. 
(Warning: some spoilers below)

Justice League #12 (October 2012) Writing by Geoff Johns, pencils by Jim Lee & art by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado & David Finch. $3.99
This issue will sell well because it received significant media attention due to a kiss between two of DC’s most iconic characters: Wonder Woman and Superman.  And while this may only get comics temporarily back into daily newspapers, the collectability-factor isn’t the only reason to pick it up. This issue also saw the culmination of the relationship conflict between Colonel Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman and a battle between the League and the spirit-driven villain David Graves has become. It also marked a falling-out between Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, with GL appearing to leave the team just in time for the upcoming Rise of the Third Army event over in the Lantern books. Suffice it to say, it was a busy issue and because of this didn't have space to put in a continuation of the Shazam story which I've also been enjoying.

Green Lantern heads back to space in Justice League #12
It was a good book and very emblematic of both the New 52’s move away from the previously established continuity and the freedom the creators have taken with new stories for their tested characters. Research tells me that this wasn't the first time Superman and Wonder Woman have kissed, but it will be interesting to see how these two go forward in the mainstream universe. The cynic might see this as a way of making sales, and to a degree that is true. But the battle and stress relating to David Graves and his 'Pertas' ('hungry ghosts') and Steve Trevor's ended relationship with Wonder Woman was good enough to convince me that this wasn't a flash-in-the-pan event and some serious character development could result from the kiss. We're also given an indication toward the end that it's not completely over with Graves and we should give us something to look forward to in the next issue. 

'Two lost souls, swimming in a fish bowl' in Justice League #12
Regarding the artwork, like most of Jim Lee’s, I find it precise, active and fun. I still think he's one of those artists who captures the medium’s vitality and entertainment value well and is among the best in the business.