Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

I know you've seen photos from Highgate Cemetery in London before, but I thought I'd do it again for the scariest day of the year. Have a fun and safe Halloween

Photo from Highgate cemetary where Bram Stoker wrote...
Highgate is also the last resting place of the great scientist Michael Faraday. It is because of his pioneering work in electromagnetism that we have things like internet (and blogs!) today. Thanks for visiting. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

SuperSoundtracks #6: The Silver Surfer & Babylon Zoo

Welcome to another super-soundtrack blog entry. In this (somewhat) regular feature, I take a good song and pair it with a comic book character. Today's comic subject is yet another creation from the minds of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; a character who first appeared with his master Galactus in the pages of Fantastic Four in March 1966. The musical subject today is the mid-90s hit 'Spaceman' by the English band Babylon Zoo.

An advert from The Avengers #25 (February 1966) This blogger (shamefully) doesn't own a copy of Fantastic Four #48 (March 1968)
Hailing from the highly advanced world of Zenn-La, the Silver Surfer was originally a scientist named Norrin Radd. When Galactus, the god-like devourer of worlds arrived at his home planet to consume it, Radd took a long unused spaceship and flew to Galactus for a parley. The resulting deal he struck was that he would serve as 'Herald' to Galactus and spare both his and other inhabited planets that Galactus would normally feed upon.    

The Silver Surfer is born! From (Silver Surfer Vol. 2 #1 1982)
At first this bargain served both parties well. Galactus, slow and cumbersome, was able to devour planets that were void of life and thus spare living creatures. At the same time, Norrin Radd as the Silver Surfer was able to explore the universe. But when the two came upon Earth conflict ensued: the Surfer grew to care about the humans while Galactus needed to eat them. Ultimately, when he aided the Fantastic Four in saving their planet, the Silver Surfer was released from Galactus' service and bound to the planet he helped spare as punishment.

Splash from Silver Surfer Vol. 2 #1 (1982). This one-shot told about the Surfer's Earth-bound captivity and starts with him in despair. Script by Stan Lee and plot and pencils by John Byrne.
It also featured a back story for readers not familiar with his creation story and...
...culminated with a conflict involving the Silver Surfer battling Mephisto. The Silver Surfer is very much an angelic presence in the Marvel Universe and it's fitting that he would count its devil as one of his chief adversaries. Above images also from Silver Surfer Vol. 2 #1.
The Silver Surfer is among the most popular characters in the Marvel Universe and has had many great creators take their turn at writing and drawing him. After appearances in the Fantastic Four he was given his own book for a short time between 1968 and 1970. This 18 issue series was silly in parts, yet is still well received to this day. Since then, the Silver Surfer (and Galactus) have appeared in many guest spots, minis and one-shots and between 1987 and 1998 Volume #3 of the Silver Surfer ran for 146 issues, an impressive run especially since it survived the mid-90s comics bubble. More recently, when it launched in 2011, The Mighty Thor featured a great opening story starring the Silver Surfer and in late 2011 Matt Fracton and Terry Dodson's Defenders also included the Silver Surfer. So far I haven't heard what Marvel NOW! plans to do with this cosmic hero, but we will be watching.
The Silver Surfer battles a pirate in the service of Mephisto in Silver Surfer Vol. 1 #9 (October 1969)
Marvel's (Marvel Knights) Silver Surfer: Requiem (July 2007) Writing by J. Michael Straczynski & art by Esab Ribic
Croatian artist Esad Ribic's work was especially good in Silver Surfer: Requiem (July 2007)
Today’s super-soundtrack chosen for the Silver Surfer is ‘Spaceman’ by Babylon Zoo, a band from Wolverhampton, England. You may remember these guys: especially if you're from the UK and heard them rocket to the top of the charts in early 1996. Unfortunately, this early success did not translate into long-term viability, and they quickly fell off the music map after their first album. Interestingly, it appears that Babylon Zoo were comic book fans -- their second album featured a song called ‘Chrome Invader’ which was originally called 'Silver Surfer' but was changed for copyright reasons. 

Spaceman is a cosmic-sounding mash of psychedelic and indie/alternative musical styles. With hauntingly slow lyrics, heavy beats and at times spoken words, it certainly has a mid-90s feel to it, yet still holds up to the 2012 listener. Its lyrics are also very appropriate to the Silver Surfer, with the below sample being particularly well matched:    
 There's a fire between us  
So where is your God?  
There's a fire between us  
I can't get off the carousel
I can't get off the carousel 

I can't get off the carousel 
I can't get off this world

If you can think of another song that would match the Silver Surfer or have a super-soundtrack of your own, please leave a comment below. That's it for now, so thanks again for reading and with the Marvel NOW! coming soon look for more reviews in the weeks to come.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Four Quick Comic Reviews

It's been a very busy October in 2012 but I did manage to read a couple comics during that time. Here are some very quick thoughts:

Batman #13 (Wed. Oct. 10th)
This book debuts the Death of the Family twenty-three book mega-series involving the Joker and had already sold out when I arrived at my local shop on Wednesday. Because of this, I was only able to read it Sunday. Before that however, my friend (via email) remarked: "Now THIS is Batman, AND the Joker. Haven't been this excited for a comic in a long time."
DC Comics' Batman #13 (December 2012) Writen by Scott Snyder with art by Greg Capullo with secondary story by Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV with art by Jock
PRICE: $3.99
'Fear' is a major theme in Batman #13
Wow, was he right. This is Batman at his best and Death should be outstanding. Snyder is once again at the top of his game and I have to say he has the voice of the Joker down(,) Pat. Likewise, Greg Capullo draws Bats and the Joker magnificently but the end story involving the Joker and Harley Quinn co-written by Snyder and James Tynion IV with art by Jock was simply outstanding. I don't recall the Joker ever looking as maniacal as he was portrayed here. 4.5/5 STARS 

Daredevil: End of Days #1 (Wed. Oct. 3rd)
While I've never been the biggest of Daredevil fans, I picked up this issue after listening to the podcast circuit. Like the title reveals, this is a stand alone series about the death of the title character and can be enjoyed with minimal knowledge of him. 
Marvel's Daredevil: End of Days (December 2012) Writing by Brian Michael Bendis & David Mack with pencil by Klaus Janson and finished art & paintings Bill Sienkiewicz 
PRICE $3.99
It's a violent comic and has a great story too.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis and David Mack, it’s a good first episode that's very busy and totally gives you your money's worth. For example, one two page combination had 17 panels, making the artwork the true strength of this book. Veteran artists Klaus Janson and Bill Sienkiewicz bring a gritty nastiness to Daredevil`s demise and it's really something to see. The 'final' battle with Kingpin was especially well drawn. 4/5 STARS 

Green Lantern #13 (Wed. Oct. 3rd)
Unfortunately, I found this comic to be the weakest of the four I'm reviewing here. It's unfortunate because I really wanted to see the first Arab-American super-hero take the world by storm and do his part to bring an increased diversity to the DCU. So although GL #13 helped further establish Simon Baz in the larger Lantern universe, it really was a so-so comic besides that and there really isn't much more to say about it. That said, I'm sure it will lead to something good in the Rise of the Third Army storyline -- but until that time we'll have to wait. 3/5 STARS
DC Comics' Green Lantern #13 (December 2012) Written by Geoff Johns with pencils by Doug Mahnke & inks by Christian Alamy 
PRICE: $2.99
Fantastic Four #611 (Wed. Oct. 10th)
My last review marks the end of two eras: the first being the end of a comic book run that goes back to 1961, and the second being the end of Jonathan Hickman’s run that goes back to 2009. 
Marvel's Fantastic Four #611 (December 2012) Writing by Jonathan Hickman with art by Ryan Stegman 
PRICE: $2.99
Ryan Stegman's art, while a little too cartoony in places, is outstanding in others. The above two images demonstrate the latter.
Now, I'm not going to say Hickman's ranks up there with the original Lee/Kirby run: that one is legendary and was a turning point for our medium. But his run was for lack of a better word fantastic. I especially enjoyed all the time-travel and family themes that it contained throughout and #611 did a good job wrapping up volume #1 nicely. Ryan Stegman's art for the most part was great and had in many places an eerily enjoyable quality to it. That said, the best part of this book was the message Hickman had for readers on the final Fantastic Four Fan Page. In it he touched upon why he used LOVE, the most important of all family attributes, to tie his stories together: which is what he did. Well done, Jonathan. 4.5/STARS

Thursday, October 11, 2012

WGTB Reviews Uncanny Avengers #1

Well, it’s here.

Marvel's Uncanny Avengers #1 (December 2012) Written by Rick Remender with Art from John Cassaday, Cover Art by Laura Martin and Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos PRICE: $3.99
Uncanny Avengers #1, the first book of the Marvel NOW! relaunch was released this past Wednesday with much fanfare across the media spectrum. Being the first book of Marvel's belated answer to DC's New 52, it had a lot to live up to -- not just because the DC reboot has proved so successful -- but also because it's the inauguration of a new Marvel Universe created by this summer's event Avengers vs X-Men.  

Hope Summers as The Phoenix in Marvel's Avengers vs X-Men #12 (December 2012)
So with Charles Xavier dead, Hope Summers the Phoenix and mutants reappearing around the world, Captain America set out to start a new team of Avengers featuring superheroes from the previously conflicting groups. Honestly, I had really been looking forward to this book and what Marvel NOW! could do for the industry. DC’s New 52 did a lot to get me back into that company and while I understand the objections some critics have had about it, you can't argue with the facts: sales at DC are up and I hope the same happens for Marvel.

Marvel NOW! is a little less ambitious, but the creators on the media and convention circuit have been doing a good job pumping it up. Rick Remender has called Uncanny Avengers a return to the classic X-Men and 'Xavier's dream' which is something that totally appeals to the comics historian in me. The team itself further includes some pretty strong characters and I am particularly looking forward to seeing Wolverine work with Captain America as partners. 

Captain America speaks with Havok in Uncanny Avengers #1 (December 2012) 
So how did it do?
For the most part, I liked it and think this series has potential. Having liked but not loved Avengers vs X-Men, I wasn't sure how this would work out. But Rick Remender's talents as a writer were evident in this book, and it was nice to see one writer write opposed to five. It is a crisp script and carries on with the themes coming out of the summer event: the good-bye to Charles Xavier, the incarceration of Scott Summers and the rebirth of mutant-kind, with an emotional intensity worthy of the gravitas of these events. It also gives us a new (old) villain with a genetically-focused modus operandi who it appears will be a great adversary for both mutant and non-mutant superheroes alike. By the end of #1 we see who that villain is (and if you've been listening to the Marvel Next Big Thing you already know) and it will be great to see him re-emerge in the Marvel Universe. The team wasn't formed by the end of this issue, but you pretty much have an idea by the cover. Putting Havok in a 'reluctant leader' role will be interesting as will having Captain America work with the mutants. That said, it wasn't the best first issue comic I've ever read -- a conflict between two of the leading females on the team seemed a little contrived to create tension later on -- but all in all it was an enjoyable story and I'm looking forward to more.

John Cassaday's art was good (if a little too reserved) but the book's fantastic colour schemes gave it a real punch. It wasn't as avant garde as other books recently released (like Klaus Janson's Daredevil: End of Days #1 or Dexter Soy's in Captain Marvel) but it gets the job done. Captain America's armour seemed a little more scaly than normal but this minor distraction is hardly enough to derail what was generally a strong art/storytelling combination. And how cool does that brooding Thor look?!
Captain America and Thor in Uncanny Avengers #1 (December 2012) 
Whether Uncanny Avengers and Marvel NOW! is enough to put Marvel consistently ahead of their Distinguished Competition in the months ahead remains to be seen. But for now, the first new book of this initiative is good start and we all have something to look forward to. 4/5 STARS