Monday, September 25, 2017

Longbox Junk - Batman: Cacophony

BATMAN: CACOPHONY
(DC)


I'm not sure exactly when or where I got these 3 comic books.  I have no recollection of ever seeing them before I pulled them out of the depths of the "B" section of my collection.  But what caught my eye and made me want to crack the tape on the plastic was that Walt Flanagan did the artwork.

I like Kevin Smith.  Some of his movies are good. . .some are bad.  I (mostly) liked his Green Arrow and Green Hornet comic work.  But what I like MOST about Kevin Smith is his "Comic Book Men" series on AMC, where Walt Flanagan is the tight-fisted ubernerd manager of Smith's comic book store "Jay & Silent Bob's Secret Stash".  I never knew he was known as a comic book artist.

Did I like what I saw?  READ ON!


ISSUE 1

Let's start out with the best thing about this issue. . .the outstanding Adam Kubert cover! Now THERE'S some classic badass Batman. Definitely frame-worthy.

The interior art is. . .okay. It's pretty uneven, going from pretty good to pretty bad randomly throughout the issue. The Joker is heavily derivative of Jim Aparo and the artist seems to have a hard time with Batman's face and hands in general.

Storywise, it's really more of a Joker story than a Batman story. Actually, more of a villain-based story in general, with Mr. Zsasz, Maxie Zeus, Deadshot, Joker, and probably the worst-named villain ever, Onomatopoeia making up the bulk of the story here, revolving around Joker being broken out of Arkham and starting a gang war with Maxie Zeus over his turning Joker Venom into a party drug.

Overall, I found this issue to be a pretty average villain-centric Batman story with some back and forth art and above average dialogue. There was an extremely strange moment where Joker showed that he was perfectly willing to have some gay sex in exchange for money that made me go WTF? but all in all this was a decent issue.

ISSUE 2

In this issue, Batman figures out who the true villain is (Onomatopoeia. . .who had some run-ins with Green Arrow) and that Joker being released was just bait to draw Batman out. Batman turns the tables and uses the Joker to draw out Onomatopoeia.

This second issue doesn't really have much going for it. The gang war between Joker and Maxie Zeus just seems like padding, and Onomatopoeia has to be one of the lamest villains I've seen in a while. . .and in a book featuring Maxie Zeus, that's not a good thing.

The art takes a sharp downward turn in this issue as well, with some really bad panels of Batman's face in particular, as well as constantly making his torso WAY too beefy. And then there's an attempted homage to the cover of Detective #27 (with Maxie Zeus taking the place of Joker) that fails miserably due to some very strange arm/hand positioning.

All in all, I found this issue disappointing. Even the cover wasn't that great.

ISSUE 3

After a disappointing second issue, the third brings this mini to an end in a pretty good way. The art is still extremely hit or miss, and Joker's bushy hobo beard was a bit of a WTF moment, but most of this issue focused on a conversation between Batman and Joker while he recovers in the hospital from almost being killed during the battle between Batman and Onomatopoeia. . .where we got a cliche "Save the dying person or chase the villain? YOUR CHOICE, BATMAN!" end to the confrontation.

I liked the idea of Batman wanting to talk to Joker while he was somewhat sane in the hospital, loaded up with anti-psychotic drugs, and that he doesn't get a bit of resolution. Joker hates him and wants to kill him. And like I said above, Onomatopoeia escapes, leaving Batman 0 for 2 in this story. It's a nice change to see Batman at a loss when a story ends.

All in all, despite the iffy artwork, this issue closed out the series nicely.
 I won't say it was great. . .but it was pretty good.

CONCLUSION
Overall, I found Batman: Cacophony to be okay.  The main villain was weak, the art was extremely hit and miss, and there were some strange WTF character moments.  On the other hand, the dialogue was pretty sharp, it had some good insights into the Batman/Joker conflict, and the Adam Kubert cover on the first issue was almost worth the price of admission alone.

Good taken with bad, I'd suggest this. . .but be warned if you're the sensitive snowflake type: There's no "Mature Reader" warning on this, but there probably should be.  There's a few pretty crude moments in here.

Up Next. . .

One shots! I love one shots!
More randomly-pulled single issue stories from my collection:
Red Sonja, Azrael, G.I. Combat, Scarecrow, Lone Gunmen, Bruce Wayne, and Conan.

Be there or be square!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Longbox Junk - Flashpoint: Project Superman

FLASHPOINT:
PROJECT SUPERMAN
(DC)

I feel I might be in the minority here, but (for the most part) I really enjoyed DC's Flashpoint event.  

Once they rebooted everything into the New 52 I thought that it was sort of a shame that they didn't continue a few of the titles as a sort of anthology title in a side universe remnant of the cataclysmic events that led to the formation of DC's "new" universe. . .but hey, I don't make the comic books.  I just read them.  Just saying I really liked the whole "Elseworlds" feel of the Flashpoint books and it feels like DC sort of wasted an opportunity.

Here's one of the many little tie in miniseries that were a part of Flashpoint.  Let's do this!

ISSUE 1


This first issue flashes back and forth in time, starting 30 years before the "present" (The present being the Flashpoint timeline) when Lt. Neil Sinclair volunteers to be Subject Zero in a top secret project to build a superhero by splicing alien DNA into his own.

As Sinclair's powers increase through the years, his sanity begins to fray, leading to a bloody debacle during his first real mission, where he kills everyone, including his own team.

At the end of the issue, Metropolis is hit with a meteor storm and we see the familiar Kryptonian super-baby in his ship.

I really liked this issue. It read less like a Superman story and more like a Captain America gone wrong tale of a good man slowly being driven mad. The art was also really good. All in all, an outstanding introduction.



ISSUE 2


In this second issue, most of the story takes place between 10 and 20 years before the "present", and is once again narrated by Subject Zero - Lt. Neil SInclair, the government's failed first attempt at building a "superman".

Kal-El, who we only saw as a baby at the end of the first issue, is now also a captive in the same Project Superman laboratory where Subject Zero is being held. What their captors don't know is that Subject Zero can communicate by telepathic means with Kal-El and he manipulates him into helping him escape.

Kal is willing to help until Subject Zero starts killing, and finally stands up to his "friend" when he tries to kill a young Lois Lane. Using the distraction, her father (Gen. Sam Lane) uses a device that sends both himself and Subject Zero to the Phantom Zone.

At the end, Kal is recaptured and the project comes under the control of a cold scientist determined to draw every secret he can from the alien boy.

I didn't like this issue as much as the first one. That's not to say it's bad at all. It's good. I just liked the "What if Captain America had gone bad?" tone in the first one better. I DO like how Kal-El in this timeline is a timid, scrawny wretch instead of the robust Kansas farmboy we all know and love.

All in all, even though I liked the first issue better, this was still a pretty damn good story. I really like the darker sci-fi take on this familiar character.



ISSUE 3



A lot of what is going on in this issue is tied in with other Flashpoint mini's as well as the main series, so it feels a bit disjointed and disconnected from the first two issues, which stood on their own quite nicely.

Most of the action here takes place in London, under Amazon occupation and with Lois Lane as an adult in the resistance, Kal-El grown and out of the lab (but still a skinny, pale wretch), and General Lane and Subject Zero accidentally released from the Phantom Zone by the Flash and his team he's been assembling. Most of this isn't explained at all. . .it's just assumed you've read the other books these things happen in.

Most of this issue is the final confrontation between Kal-El and Subject Zero (now more alien than man and almost completely insane) in the streets of London. It's a pretty spectacular fight, and in the process, Kal learns that he must become the hero that Earth needs from Lois Lanes dying words before a very nice homage to Supergirl's death on the cover of Crisis on Infinite Earths #7.

All in all, this didn't feel so much like the conclusion to this mini so much as a tie-in to Flashpoint in general. That's not to say it's bad. It's not bad. . .it's just not as good as it could have been.


CONCLUSION

Overall, for an event tie-in (and pretty much a throwaway one at that), I really liked Project Superman a lot. . .especially the first two issues.  The third issue was really more of a tie-in than the other two.  In particular, I liked the first issue the best, and feel that it could have stood alone as a one-shot story of science gone wrong in the name of patriotism. 

I liked that the villain of this mini was a good man driven mad through no fault of his own. . .through the hubris of the government trying to create something they had no business trying to create, and then trying to hide it once things went wrong.  If you look past the crossover ties, there's a really good, really dark story here.  

Up next. . .

Anybody remember when the Joker had a bushy hobo beard and was openly gay?  That time Deadshot took a bullet to the face from a rando villain?  And then Alfred and Bruce Wayne had a short discussion about the Bat-Penis?  Welcome to the wonderful world of Kevin Smith. . .

Batman: Cacophony.  Be there or be square!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Longbox Junk - Rocketeer Adventures 2

ROCKETEER ADVENTURES 2
(IDW)

I'm a big fan of older, pulp-style characters. . .Green Hornet, The Shadow, Zorro, The Spirit, The Lone Ranger. . .so on and so forth.  I discovered The Rocketeer through the Disney movie and assumed he was a character from that same era of heroes.  After I hunted down some comics and information, I was surprised to learn that the Rocketeer was a product of the 80's!  

Despite that, I consider him one of the greatest pulp heroes ever created, and that he stands perfectly alongside his fellow heroes of a bygone age.  Let's take a look at some of his more recently-written adventures in this 4-issue mini from IDW. . .

ISSUE 1



In this first issue of IDW's second Rocketeer Adventures anthology series, we have three stories and a pinup to consider.  Let's look at each of them on their own. . .

THE GOOD GUYS


The first thing that caught my eye on this story is how almost perfectly the artist captures not only the look, but the feel of Dave Steven's art style! It's a little spooky, in a way, but fantastic. . .

The story is okay. Not much to it. The Rocketeer is shot down during a dogfight and the residents of a small town have to decide whether or not to turn him over to the authorities. I give this one 3 stars.

THE DUCKETEER


This story is based on the fact that if the Rocketeer DID exist, he'd be celebrated in many ways. . .including being made fun of in Looney Toon-type cartoons before movies. 

This is basically a Daffy Duck/Marvin the Martian cartoon set on paper with Daffy playing the part of the Rocketeer. It's just as wacky and off the hook as those great old cartoons are. I thought it was pretty funny, but Bill Sienkiewicz's art isn't a great fit for it, and sort of takes away from the humor a bit because of the unique nature of his art style. I give this one 3 stars.

A DREAM OF FLYING


This story is rendered in a very cartoony style that would have been perfect for the previous entry.

The story itself is about a boy that saves the Rocketeer and is rewarded with a flight with his hero. It has a clever twist at the end where it doesn't say it explicitly, but hints that the boy is a very young Clark Kent (the future Superman). I give this one three stars as well.

The cover is fantastic and worth of a frame on the wall. The pinup is unfortunately pretty forgettable.

All in all, I give this issue a good 4 star rating. The only criticism I would have on it is that if you aren't already a fan of The Rocketeer, this is NOT a good introduction. It fully assumes you have knowledge of The Rocketeer and just goes from there.



ISSUE 2



Three stories and a pinup in this second issue of IDW's second Rocketeer Adventures anthology series. . .

WORK TO DO


This story takes place on a miserable, rainy, European battlefield during WWII. The art is simply fantastic here. . .it's dark and very detailed. Normally I associate The Rocketeer with brighter hues, but the art fits the tone of the story perfectly here.

The story itself is pretty simple. The Rocketeer going to fight a giant war machine, but delaying long enough to save a single wounded man who needs help. It really paints the picture of The Rocketeer as a true hero. I liked this story a lot and give it a solid 4 stars.

BETTY'S BIG BREAK


This story is played more for laughs, and is based on Cliff Secord's almost insane jealousy over his hot amateur actress girlfriend as he spies on her during the filming of her first big part and accidentally ends up in the movie too.

I like seeing stories about how jealous Cliff is over Betty, but this one sort of fell flat. The art is done in a stiff throwback style that wasn't really that great either. I give this one 3 stars. Not bad, but not that good either.

AUTOGRAPH


A simple story about The Rocketeer saving a woman from being kidnapped by thugs and it turning out to be Judy Garland. What I liked most about this story was the fantastic artwork! It's sharp, detailed, and heavily-inked. There's one shot of The Rocketeer flying up from the street that I would love to have as a poster. A solid 4 star story here. Very nice.

The regular cover by Cooke isn't that good, but I have the Stevens cover, which is great. The pinup by Campbell is just okay. . .but the sense of height he puts into the background is awesome.

All in all this issue is the best so far and gets a solid 4, almost 5, stars.



ISSUE 3



Three more stories and a pinup. 
Let's do this!

COULDA BEEN. . .


After Cliff ruins Betty's night with his jealousy AGAIN, he flies her to the countryside to show her a farmhouse he's been thinking of buying. This leads to reflection from both of them on what their life would be like if they settled down. Cliff becoming a farmer and Betty taking care of the kids. 


They realize they love each other for what they are and they don't have the right to take each other's dreams away. It's a very nice story and digs deep into the relationship between Cliff and Betty. The art is also nicely done. It's a different kind of Rocketeer story, but I liked it. I give this one 3 stars.

BUTCHY SAVES BETTY


This one is played more for laughs, turning the "Cliff is jealous of Betty" thing on its head as Betty interrupts Cliff auditioning a line of pretty girls for a stunt show with a shotgun. Hijinks ensue and Cliff's dog Butch ends up being the hero and saving the day. 


I liked the goofy nature of the story, as well as the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge." un-named cameo of The Shadow's alter ego Lamont Cranston, but I'm not a big fan of Kyle Baker's art, and it seemed even worse than usual on this story. Good with bad, I give this one 3 stars. The Shadow saves it from 2.

HISTORY LESSON


This was a pretty unusual Rocketeer story. It's told mostly with a series of full-page montage scenes until the end, when it's revealed that the narrator is teaching a history lesson about The Rocketeer to students in a far future classroom. It ends with school being dismissed and showing that everyone is flying around with jetpacks. A nice little story with an interesting twist. 


Unfortunately, the highly-stylized art is distracting. It's not bad, it's just an odd choice. . .and Rocketeer's helmet just looks weird. Matt Wagner wrote this story, I would have LOVED to see his art on this story as well. Big Wagner art fan here. A damn shame. I give it 3 stars.

The Cooke cover is simply fantastic. The pinup by Eric Powell is so-so, except for his rendition of The Rocketeer himself, which is outstanding. I'd love to see him illustrate a full story.

All in all, I give this issue 3 stars. It's pretty good. Not bad, but nothing really standing out either.


ISSUE 4



3 more stories and a pinup to look at in this finale to IDW's second Rocketeer Adventures series. . .

WAR HERO


Set in 1942 after the Pearl Harbor attack, Cliff finds himself blocked from joining the military and relegated to making War Bond appearances as The Rocketeer because of his originally stealing his jetpack from the government. He proves his worth to the President by preventing a suicide bombing attack on the U.S. Capital. The story was okay, but fell a little flat. The art was about the same. . .okay, but nothing special. Three stars for this one.

CLIFF SECORD, WARLORD OF BLARGON

This story is a bit of a mess. It's about The Rocketeer travelling to another world where everything is pretty much the opposite of what he thinks it is. I'd say this is the worst story of the whole series. It has a few funny moments based on his utter misunderstanding of the aliens and their actions, but it just seems like a filler strip at the end of an indie comic. The brightly-colored and overly- simplistic art reinforces the whole Indie comic feel of this. The Rocketeer is pulp, not Indie. 
No Bueno! Two stars.

FAIR GAME


I got a definite sense of deja vu reading this final story. That's because basically, it's the same story as the first one in this issue. The Rocketeer stops a suicide bomber from killing the King of England during a visit to the World's Fair. It seems like a strange choice to put two stories that are so similar in the same issue. The story itself is okay and art is okay, but neither one are anything special. I give it 3 stars.

The regular Cooke cover isn't that good, but the Stevens cover I have is absolutely spectacular! The pinup by J.K. Snyder III is pretty good, especially the figure of the Rocketeer himself. He's another one I'd like to see illustrate a whole story.

All in all, we have two stories that are almost reflections of each other bookending strange Indie crap. The cover and pinup save the issue from a 2 star rating. I'd still say this one is the worst of the four. A damn shame. The Rocketeer deserves better.


CONCLUSION

There you have it, IDW's 4 issue Rocketeer Adventures 2 mini series.

Overall, I found this to be a great mini, and would highly suggest it.  It has a few rough spots here and there, but good taken with bad, I feel that there was a lot of respect shown for the character and a pretty wide-ranging variety of stories and art with a nice, high-quality presentation by IDW.

The only real BAD point of this series is that the reader is pretty much assumed to already be a fan of The Rocketeer and to know all about the character coming in.  This is probably not the best doorway to becoming a fan of The Rocketeer if you're coming in cold with little or no knowledge of the character.  It's a good tribute to a great character, but a lousy introduction.

Up next. . .

Anybody remember that little thing DC did a few years back called "Flashpoint" leading into the "New 52" reboot of their whole publishing line? Remember how they put out a bunch of little tie-in mini's about characters that we never really got to hear much about again?

Flashpoint: Project Superman 3-issue mini.  Be there or be square!