Wonder Woman #3

Wonder Woman #3 By Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson, Jared K. Fletcher
By Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson, Jared K. Fletcher

In my posts on Aquaman and Green Lantern, I mentioned in passing their predilection for R-rated violence. Illustrating scenes of bloodletting comes very easily in the DC Universe. The same can't be said for the rendering of any kind of sexual content, which ranges from embarrassingly juvenile to simply bizarre. So when the scene in Wonder Woman #3 revealing the affair between Queen Hippolyta and Zeus is actually handled with a measure of something approaching intelligence and maturity, it can be considered a meager victory for the series and its creative team.

I haven't changed my mind about the decision to make Diana the illegitimate daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus. It still feels like a retreat from what originally made the character unique and different. But as far as execution goes, WW is shaping up to be among the better titles the New 52 has to offer. Artist Cliff Chiang is one of a handful of artists at DC (Along with Francis Manapul on The Flash and J.H. Williams on Batwoman) who employs a style that's individual and yet accessible - one that doesn't look like a refugee from the Image-influenced 90s. Chiang's clean lines and grasp of drawing fundamentals even manages to make the new WW costume look passable (Or at the very least, look less overdone). His linework is full of energy. The characters look like they're inhabiting an actual space instead of just floating in front of a backdrop. The attention to quality is matched by Brian Azzarello's story. While I'm still not sold on the scenes involving decapitation back in issue #1, his WW is, if not completely human, certainly more grounded. By way of contrast, the reader has only to read WW's debut in Justice League #3 to see how poorly the character can be handled. The series creators have chosen to portray their ensemble as broad types rather than individual personalities. In the case of WW, she's an ingénue who takes her cue from the George Perez and Jodi Picoult runs on the title, but updated to fit in with today's more bloodthirsty standards.

Justice League #3
Justice League #3
Justice League #3

The Justice League version is a very generic product seemingly whittled down from other sources that were themselves rip-offs of other ideas - a walking engine of destruction dressed in a bathing suit and heels, who becomes immediately objectified by her would-be colleagues. Ugh! In contrast, The Azzarello WW's barely restrained anger to her mother's revealed dalliance makes her immediately more relatable as a character. The difference between the two interpretations of her is the difference between competent vs. lazy genre writing. In her own series, her reaction helps define her personality a bit more while pushing the story forward. And for now, it's a story worth reading.

Wonder Woman #3 By Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson, Jared K. Fletcher
Wonder Woman #3 By Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson, Jared K. Fletcher
Wonder Woman #3


“...all that is bogus”

 Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
Go to: Drawn and Quarterly, by Guy Delisle (via Sean T. Collins)

Pulgasari, directed by Shin Sang-Ok and Choi Eun Hee
Go to: Salon, by John Gorenfield, for a recounting of the experiences of Shin Sang-Ok and Choi Eun Hee, who were kidnapped at the command of Kim Jong-Il in order to produce movies for the North Korean film industry.


 Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson
Go to: Cul de Sac by Richard Thompson


Green Lantern #1-4

Green Lantern #1-4 By Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy and Keith Champagne, Alex Sinclair, Sal Cipriano, Francis Manapul
By Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy and Keith Champagne, Alex Sinclair, Sal Cipriano, Francis Manapul

I never got too far into the Geoff Johns run of Green Lantern, which makes me a lapsed reader of the title. Now I understand that Johns managed to fashion it into one of the cornerstones, if not The Keystone, of the DC Universe. He did this by generating a convoluted cosmology around the Guardians of Oa and the Green Lantern Corps that left me more disinterested in following the title. But when DC announced that their latest company-wide relaunch wasn't a reboot, they meant that certain titles, especially this one, would carry on more or less unaffected. In fact, several titles of the New 52 universe start were the old Green Lantern storylines left off. How was this supposed to appeal to new readers?

Well, in the case of the core Green Lantern series, Johns harks back to an earlier and simpler era. Hal Jordan has been kicked out of the Green Lantern Corps for actions that aren't explicated in any detail. Meanwhile, arch-villain Sinestro has been reinstated as a Green Lantern. The first thing he does is travel to Earth to enlist the help of Hal, in order to liberate his home planet Korugar from the clutches of the Yellow Lanterns. As a reader I don't get why Sinestro is now fighting the very corps that he himself founded, but whatever. The point of the story is that Sinestro has gone back to treating Hal like a rookie under his wing again.

Green Lantern #1-4 By Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy and Keith Champagne, Alex Sinclair, Sal Cipriano, Francis Manapul

The character dynamic is similar to what longtime GL fans already knew about the duo (Or to viewers of the GL movie). Sinestro is a condescending jerk who corrects every little mistake Hal makes, like not knowing how to properly save people from a collapsing bridge and whatnot. For his part, Hal acts nothing like the savvy veteran that he's supposed to be. Rather, he's a loser who can't hold down a job, maintain a steady relationship, or pay his rent on time. He wants so much to get back into the GLC, so he takes Sinestro up on his offer without hesitation, even if he hates his guts. If Johns is trying to make Hal a sympathetic character who's down on his luck, he doesn't succeed. There's one scene were he goes on a date with his on-off again girlfriend Carol Ferris that sounds like it was meant to be funny, but falls flat when Hal asks Carol for financial help. Hal just comes across as a dumb fighter-jock instead of an experienced superhero. Actually, Sinestro goes out of his way to make fun of the "super-hero" label as well.

That Geoff Johns' GL continuity survived relatively intact is representative of the new DC Universe. It looks and feels a lot like the old Universe, just refurbished to get the attention of lapsed readers. And it shores up the already loyal fans. But it doesn't work as well opening up to a new audience. Johns loves organizing his cast into stark black and his white categories (i.e. the Sinestro Corps and the GLC), but he's not particularly adept at portraying subtle human interactions. This weakness mixes uneasily with his fetish for graphic violence. The results aren't so much intelligent and edgy as they are creepy and disturbing. The two main characters sometimes act like bickering teenagers. The wielders of the most versatile weapons in the universe use them mostly to torture, strangle or disembowel their enemies. The Guardians have no problem lobotomizing anyone who disagrees with them. And those are the people who are in charge of protecting the universe from evil?

Green Lantern #1-4 By Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke, Christian Alamy and Keith Champagne, Alex Sinclair, Sal Cipriano, Francis Manapul

In issue #4 Sinestro reaches a turning point. His plans to save Korugar have gone to pieces. He's trapped and cornered. Encouraged by Hal, he begins to admit his mistakes and asks for help from the people he sought to protect. Does this mark genuine change, or a red herring thrown in before Sinestro reverts back to true villainy? The problem is that having to choose between him and Hal kind of sucks.


Aquaman #1-3

Aquaman #1 By Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Rod Reis, Nick J. NapolitanoAquaman #2 By Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Rod Reis, Nick J. NapolitanoAquaman #3 By Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Rod Reis, Nick J. Napolitano

By Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Rod Reis, Nick J. Napolitano

Anyone who's written for Aquaman has had to contend with the widespread perception that he's something of a joke. Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis tackle this in the most direct way possible. The first issue starts out well enough. Our newly revised hero demonstrates that his physical prowess is almost a match for the 1938 Superman by foiling a heist. He leaps over tall buildings, casually tosses around an armored truck, and absorbs machine-gun fire at point-blank range without flinching. Sadly, he doesn't attempt to outrun a bullet train. Still, the point has been made. "This ain't your daddy's Aquaman" is the message they seem to be conveying.

The story however grinds to a halt when he attempts to enjoy a meal at a seafood restaurant, only to be interrupted by an obnoxious blogger (yes, we're all like that) who wants to troll him in person. Aquaman tolerates him for as long as he can, before leaving in a huff. But at least he has his lovely wife Mera to tend to his wounded male ego. And the reader is pretty much told why Aquaman's much cooler than (s)he thinks. Yes, he eats fish. Get over it. No, he doesn't need to return to water to survive. Yes, he communicates telepathically with sea life, but don't refer to it as "talk to fish" because fish don't actually understand human speech. It's about as subtle as a bag of hammers.

Aquaman #1 By Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Rod Reis, Nick J. Napolitano
C'mon Aquaman. Namor would have broken that guy's kneecaps and tossed him
into the ocean for interrupting his meal.

Thank goodness the next issue gets back into the thick of things (albeit not as quickly as I'd like) when some carnivorous fish-people decide to feed on a seaside town. Aquaman and Mera intercede, over the objections of the police. When the fish-people attack again, the pair go through them like the Nisshin Maru carving up a pod of Minke whales. Lots of bloodshed ensues, as expected in a Geoff Johns comic. Look! he's a badass now. And the plot inches forward in issue three when Aquaman enlists the help of an old acquaintance of his father named Stephen Shin, who supposably tried to kill him at one point. Lots of hints about Aquaman's past are dropped, including an enigmatic statement about the trident he uses as a weapon.

New 52 Aquaman is something of a prick, which is justified in the series by the public's attitude toward him. Wouldn't you be too if you knew they kept laughing behind your back? The problem with the series' metatextual approach is that it sometimes puts advancing its own arguments over advancing the story itself. Telling the audience that the character is cool won't necessarily make them like him any better if the character hasn't yet been well developed. But whether by accident or design, the results are also rather comical. Instead of sulking about a world that hates and fears you, why not one that refuses to take you seriously? Plenty of ten-year-olds know how that feels. That almost everyone treats Aquaman with slight condescension works as a foil to his own truculence. And it helps make him look less like an insufferable jerkface, unlike some other so-called heroes (Yeah, I'm looking at you Green Arrow).

Aquaman #2 By Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Rod Reis, Nick J. Napolitano
Retaliating like monsters is the Americ... I mean, Atlantean way.

So Aquaman is misunderestimated. But wouldn't it have been possible for him to have started out slightly more mature and self-aware, gradually learning to adopt a more relaxed and self-depreciating attitude as the story progresses? Oh wait, this is a superhero comic book. Never mind.


An Uneven Trinity Revisited

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

To paraphrase Ms. Beaton, Batman and Superman can go fuck themselves!

Anyway, this is hearkening back to an earlier post.


The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin
Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!

The Adventures of Tintin finally opened at local cinemas this week, so I went out yesterday and watched it. As expected of a film directed by Steven Spielberg, it was an entertaining Hollywood remake of Hergé's beloved comic, well crafted and calculated to appeal to kids. But the key word here is "Hollywood". Fans of the original are going to be left disappointed about the changes that inevitably accompany any adaptation, especially one that anglicizes the original work.

Spielberg gets one thing right - the sense of adventure embodied by its young, globe-trotting hero. Tintin has the right combination of curiosity, intelligence, bravery, and resourcefulness. And given said anglicization, the voice actors do a fine job with what they have to work with. Spielberg steers clear of the darker political overtones of Hergé's books, which I suppose is understandable given the controversy surrounding some of the man's politics.

The most obvious stylistic change is the translation of Hergé's ligne claire style into CGI. Trying to replicate Hergé on the big screen would have been far more audacious, but would have been a bigger artistic embarrassment had it failed. It was probably wise for Spielberg to not make the attempt for the entire film. He does pay homage to the master with a nice opening montage, and by inserting Hergé as a street artist who draws a caricature of Tintin as a way to introduce the character. The characters themselves have that glossy sheen that might put some viewers into uncanny valley territory. Snowy in particular looks more like a cast member of Toy Story than Tintin's pet dog. There were times when the saturated color palette reminded me of the Harry Potter films of Chris Columbus. But the visuals of Tintin are still far, far better than past motion capture efforts like The Polar Express or Final Fantasy.

Of course, the film has its share of overly-fussy, confusing, physics-defying, action set pieces that no major Hollywood production can live without these days, but are worlds apart from the clarity and elegance of Hergé. When movies squeeze in more than one of these type of sequences, it can soon become boring to watch.

And the movie goes all sentimental in its treatment of Captain Haddock, grafting onto the character a redemptive tale of a drunken loser who becomes a hero and saves the day. At one point, he gives an inspirational speech about finding one's true self, which made the Tintin fan within me bristle. The same goes for the good vs. evil binary Spielberg sets ups by incorporating an unnecessary inter-generational conflict between the two sides. For me, the Haddock of Hergé was always a slightly unhinged individual who would learn to fight and drink hard, not someone seeking to overcome his alcoholism.

After my viewing, I stopped by the nearest bookstore to see what Tintin albums were available to read. Unfortunately, it didn't have copies of The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with the Golden Claws, the two works the film is based on. The store didn't appear to be aware that there was even a Tintin film currently screening in two theaters at the cineplex. What a shame.


Mudman #1

Mudman #1 By Paul Grist and Bill Crabtree
By Paul Grist and Bill Crabtree

I'm not sure how to feel about Paul Grist's latest project Mudman. A lot of it has to do with his art. Grist's figure drawing owes more to European cartooning traditions than to American pulp storytelling. His figures are flattened and elongated, and somewhat subdued. They're not exactly the center of attention. It's not so much that they're used to mask more highly rendered backgrounds as in Tintin, but they're subsumed to the overall design of the page layout. And Grist's pages are clean, balanced, and uncluttered. They make a virtue of clarity and precision. Technically, I don't find any fault in them. It just doesn't resonate emotionally to me. But I realize I'm clearly in the minority in this regard. Perhaps it's the quality of his line work that's making it hard to relate to the characters. It might simply be too schematic for my tastes.

The story itself is a nicely-told origin that's reminiscent of Spider-Man and other classic superheroes. It implies a larger and more complex backstory that will be gradually revealed in future chapters, like a modern-day fan discovering that the exploits of the Silver Age had some basis in reality. Even the mud-themed powers have a certain 1960's goofiness to them, although Grist injects them with ominous supernatural overtones. This gives the story a dark edge that keeps it from becoming overly nostalgic. Basically, the story revolves around Owen Craig - a rebellious teenager who expresses his boredom with the sleepy British seaside town he resides in by engaging in harmless acts of vandalism with his friend Jack Newton. Craig's a rather normal individual without a whole lot of drama in his life. He's not a geek, or an outcast. He doesn't exhibit any odd talents. He's just very average. One night he stumbles into an old, abandoned house, only to discover it's not so abandoned. He leaves somehow gaining superpowers. And he doesn't remember a whole lot about what happened to him.

Mudman #1 By Paul Grist and Bill Crabtree

If I sound a little blasé about the comic, it's also because nothing jumps out as being particularly new and original. But this is a solid work done in the genre. It's adolescent cast isn't over-the-top, objectionable or cliched. It's entirely accessible to new readers. And I will admit that the cliffhanger ending did leave me in anticipation of what's about to come. While Grist's art has yet to grow on me, those who have read and enjoyed his past works aren't going to need a whole lot of convincing to give his new series a chance.


Komikon 2011 Part 2

Go to PART 1 for more details.

Here are a few photos taken from the afternoon I spent at the 7th Annual Philippine Komiks Convention held at the Unilab Bayanihan Center.

Exhibit Hall, Komikon 2011

A few of the komik creators exhibiting at Komikon

Comic Odyssey, Komikon 2011Comic Odyssey, Komikon 2011

The section of the Comic Odyssey booth selling manga, and a few Western graphic novels from another vendor. Anyone looking to buy some defunct Tokyopop volumes could get them for a bargain.

Kurohiko, Komikon 2011

Pinoy manga from the Kurohiko table

Bayan Knights, Komikon 2011

The Bayan Knights superhero line from Sacred Mountain Publications

Trese, Komikon 2011Never Heard

Trese merch and a banner for Never Heard webcomics

Teddy Pavon, Work in Progress (WIP), Komikon 2011

Teddy Pavon selling print copies of his webcomic Work In Progress (WIP)

Happy Lockjaw, Komikon 2011

Komiks from the Happy Lockjaw table

Exhibit Hall, Komikon 2011

Another wide-angle shot of the Komikon exhibitor tables

Tony DeZuniga, Syeri Baet-Zamar, Komikon 2011

Tony DeZuniga being interviewed by Syeri Baet-Zamar

Tony DeZuniga, Komikon 2011

Tony DeZuniga prepares to leave the stage

Carlo Vergara, Komikon 2011

Carlo Vergara sketching

Tony DeZuniga, Komikon 2011Tony DeZuniga, Komikon 2011
Tony DeZuniga, Komikon 2011

Tony DeZuniga sketching with his portfolio

Gerry Alanguilan, Komikon 2011

Gerry Alanguilan signing copies of his award-winning graphic novel Elmer

Michael David and Melvin Calingo, Komikon 2011

Michael David and Melvin Calingo at the Point Zero Comics table

That's all for now folks. See you next year, or not.