Panelology - Poor Frank

by Brandon
As the year comes to a close, most fans start to look back on all the things that made 2008 great for our beloved hobby. Comic books and comic book characters seem to be more in the forefront of popular culture consciousness now, thanks in large part to huge performances from blockbuster films based on comic book properties. In a year where theaters have already been graced with arguably three of the best comic book films thus far (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and The Dark Knight), The Punisher, the relentless Marvel Comics’ vigilante, returned to theaters for a third round of punishment with Punisher: War Zone. Though the film was heavy on fertile action movie territory like violence, blood, guts, shooting, and brutality, Frank Castle struck out with moviegoers yet again. The Punisher has definitely set out an impressive stake on an unwanted claim as Marvel’s unluckiest movie star. According to Hollywood.com, Punisher: War Zone has thus far only been able to shoot up $7.9 million dollars worth of damage at the box office. Compare that sum to the other Marvel starlets of 2008 and Punisher comes off look pathetically weak. Iron Man was invincible for Marvel, hauling a whopping $318.2 million in theaters, while The Incredible Hulk smashed up $134.5 million. Punisher is a guy who has gone toe to toe with the likes of Wolverine, Batman, and even Dr. Doom in the past. He should be able to make more than $8 million, right?

So what went wrong? What happened with this mighty Marvel movie that did not happen with Hulk or Iron Man? I am a huge Punisher fan and always will be a fan. While I actually did enjoy Punisher: War Zone on a “guilty pleasure” level, I understand how it would not click with a larger audience outside of the Frank Castle faithful. Some things worked, but much of it did not.

Both Iron Man and Incredible Hulk feature some stellar acting on the part of the primary characters. Robert Downy, Jr.’s Tony Stark and Ed Norton’s Bruce Banner were both compelling actors turning in solid portrayals of these larger than life comic characters. The same roughly holds true for Punisher: War Zone. By and large, Ray Stevenson does a bang-up job as Punisher. He was cold, ruthless, and domineering. He nailed the essence of the Punisher by embodying an unfeeling character well. Was it as good a job as what Ed Norton or Robert Downy brought to the screen this past summer? Definitely not, but Ray Stevenson deserves more kudos for doing a great job playing Frank Castle. He walked into a hard position here by walking into a role that has garnered little esteem in the past and managed to do a pretty decent job.

Does Frank Castle need a hug? Punisher: War Zone, just like the previous 2003 film, tried to humanize Punisher too much. In War Zone, we find Frank Castle accidentally killing an undercover agent, causing Punisher to rethink his war on crime. Frank decides to apologize to agent’s widow, leading to some very “touching” scenes between the slain man’s daughter and Frank. That was sarcasm. That type of civilizing just does not work for me, and I do not think it works for the big screen. I do not think the Punisher needs to be humanized. He is a cold, blunt instrument. He shoots criminals. That is as simple and complex as it needs to be. I do not think it is necessary to make Punisher a likable guy. Frank Castle is not a likable guy. At his root, he is basically a crazed murderer. His reason for being is taking out criminals. Period. Viewers do not desire or need to see Frank hand a teddy bear over to a little girl. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner can be humanized. They are moral tales with flawed, yet essentially good-natured heroes, where right triumphs over wrong. Punisher is not that kind of story. The area between right and wrong should be blurry with regards to Frank Castle. He cannot be saved, no matter how many little girls want to hug his neck at the end of the film.

The Punisher is only as good as his villain(s). This is true in both comic books and in film. One of the most compelling aspects of Garth Ennis’ long run on Punisher was his ability to bring in villains that did not seem to be caricatures or farcically deranged men in brightly colored tights. However, Jigsaw just did not cut it in this film. He was laughable at best and completely ignorable at worst. Jigsaw was so blatantly over the top and outrageous that it was hard to even believe you were watching the same movie when he came onscreen. The scenes featuring both Jigsaw and his brother were excruciating to watch. Jigsaw just never fit in with the rhythm of the rest of the film. He was an outlier occupying screen time that could have been better spent. I think I would have rather seen a movie where Punisher killed low level crack addicts for ninety-minutes than to have ever seen Dominic West’s Jigsaw for even a single frame. Dominic West is a solid actor, but this role was just brainless, especially in the face of such great villainy in Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and especially The Dark Knight. The villain should compliment the hero, not overshadow him with ineffective goofiness.

Will Punisher ever make it as a hit comic-to-film character? Maybe, but he probably will not get another chance for a long time. The Punisher’s star has faded for now, with War Zone effectively killing off the brand for the foreseeable future. It will practically take a miracle to bring Frank Castle back to life on the big screen, but it is not impossible. Many people thought batman and Robin would kill the dynamic duo for years to come, but Batman Begins helped reinvent the franchise and energize excitement in the character of Batman. Could a Punisher Begins be too far down the pike? The possibility, though unlikely, is still there and that is all we Punisher fans have to hold onto for now
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Panelology – Your Collection is Incomplete, Part 3

by Brandon

Brace yourself! Panelology returns after a hiatus with an all 80s edition of Your Collection is Incomplete. The 1980s were a time of cheesy hair and tacky music, but for some, comic books were never better than in those high-water days of mysterious brooding. Most of the 30-something audience of comic book readers today fondly look back at this period as being largely responsible for grabbing our attention and bringing us into the medium. As with any decade, some of the books were better than others, but chances are that most of us probably have comics from this era that we dearly hold onto as cherished jewels of our collection. And hey, it was the 80s. Some may have literally put glitter on their boxes as kid to give them that extra jewel-like sparkle. Regardless, here are three books from that decade of darkness that still pack a punch today and should occupy a corner of your long boxes.

Elemental #’s 1-5, Comico
By Bill Willingham
Available in Elementals issues 1-5 (volume 1) or in TPB
Before Mr. Willingham wowed us with his Fables, Elementals stood out as his premiere accomplishment. Elementals follows the tale of four resurrected humans that somehow cheated death and now have superpowers. As the title suggests, these four team members were possessed with the power of the basic elements of earth. Vortex represents air, while Fathom embodies water, Monolith earth, and Morningstar fire. Pretty simple, right? Well, seeing as how all of these people had to first die to get there powers, you had to know it wouldn’t be that simple. Dying in order to get superpowers makes getting bitten by a radioactive spider seem so blasé. Yet, there it is. Willingham handled both art and writing duties on many of the issues in the initial run, although his involvement was mainly in the writing department by the end of the first series. Later incarnations would stray further and further away from the mature look at superheroes. Willingham set forth, as would his involvement. Disputes over the rights to the characters would leave the finalized story of the Elementals in limbo forever, yet these first few issues were excellent, as much of the first series is. Willingham did not shy away from handling touchy subjects such as sex and the transforming dynamic a team can have over time. This was a established look at how superheroes operate without all of the pretension that would come from later stories from other companies. The initial salvo of the Shadowspear War represented in these first few issues plays into the larger arc of just what the Elementals are. It’s too bad that Willingham never truly got to finish the story as the Elementals, but that should not deter you from giving these issues a happy home.

Strikeforce: Morituri #’s 1-12, Marvel
By Peter Gillis and Brent Anderson
Available in issues Strikeforce: Morituri 1-12
Sticking with the death theme, we have Striikeforce: Morituri as our next essential. I am surprised at how many comic book fans don’t know about this wonderful little treasure from Marvel. It is probably one of the best kept secrets of 1980s Marvel. Every cover to the book stated the ominous moniker; We Who Are About to Die! Lots of comics boasted such doomsday claims, but few have actually lived up to the chaotic promise of death that this title held. The story revolves around a group of aliens attempting to take over earth, the Hoard (I know, I know; very original). The last line of defense for earth was to use the Morituri process to give humans superpowers. The catch? The Morituri process killed you. Eventually, all that went through the process would die randomly in a violent explosion of light, their powers consuming them. That’s right, kids. Characters really did die in comics for good and in violent ways before Peter Milligan and Mike Allred’s X-Force/X-Statix. It seemed like just as you started to enjoy a character, poof, they were gone. The first twelve issues were just flipping great and consistent in their quality that it’s hard to say not just stop there. Finish the whole series out. Just buy them all. Right? I wish I could tell you that. However, the truth is that the quality of the series does peter off towards the end. Yes, I said “peter off.” The series was cancelled with issue #31, only to be replaced by a prestige format book that lasted five issues. Since then, the Strikeforce has been pretty much MIA. That’s too bad. There is a lot of potential in these characters and in this story. Maybe a reinvigorated version is just around the corner from the House of Ideas. Just think of it this way, Marvel; Wolverine could show up.

Batman: The Killing Joke
, DC Comics
By Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
Available in TPB and HC
I know I promised that I would try to steer clear of the big guns like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, but it’s very hard not to talk about the Joker now. With the recent release of Dark Knight on DVD and the buzz surrounding a potential Oscar for the late Heath ledger, it’s impossible to not turn our attention to the character, especially his finest moment. To many fans, the Killing Joke is the best Joker story ever published It’s hard to argue against that, especially since the book has been in-print ever since it was first published in 1988. The Joker has always been a nifty character and an iconic rogue for Batman, but Alan Moore brought a psychotic quality to clown prince of crime. The Joker seemed like a slapstick comedian in many of the old Bat-efforts in previous decades. In the 80s, writers started to take him a bit more seriously. Part of this had to do with the natural progression of following the story, but part of it was the changing tone of comics. The Joker became darker because comic books became darker. The caper portrayed isn’t Joker slapping a pie in anyone’s face. No, Joker decides to shoot Jim Gordon’s daughter, forcing Gordon to watch, torturing him with images of the deed. This is something a psycho would do! While this might seem a bit tame compared to Heath Ledger’s brilliant interpretation of Joker, I would argue that the move towards the lunacy of that portrayal started right here in this very comic. The Joker was suddenly a serious threat. Once this book came out, writers couldn’t bring back the more jester-like version of Joker. The character was in a darker place now and there was no going back.
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Waited for the trade: Silver Surfer Requiem


Comic books aren’t just about super heroes, there is a lot out there that transcends this genre, and some books published by the big two might contain super heroes, but are so far from the norm. These books are often so detached from the usual super hero beat’em up that the often fall under the radar of most comic book buyers. great books such as these really deserve wider recognition and thankfully in this case I’m not fighting against the flow as Silver Surfer: Requiem by J Michael Straczynski and Esad Ribic has already garnered a lot of critical praise and commercial success.

This book shows the depth of material available, even from a publisher like Marvel Comics that is so often seen just as purveyor of mindless, or even intelligent, super heroics. They sell the big guns, the high octane crash bang comics, good guys against the bad, even their imprints, though not traditional super hero books, are still based on the concept of the good guy versus the bad guy.

But this book is a departure from all of that; this is a personal book, an introspective of an alien, of an outsider that could so easily be one of us. A man who thought he would live forever has just found out that he is about to die, that his time has finally come to an end. He reacts just as we might. Though he is a man covered in silver, a man who can fly through the cold of space and do battle with beings with power beyond our comprehension, he is still a man.

The art of the book captures the mood of the story very well. At time it is immense, the sense of grandeur really comes through each page. The immensity of space, the power of the Surfer and the fragility of life, Ribic has captured the smaller moments with the same majesty and magic as he has the larger, and this is where the book really comes into its own, where it sets itself apart from the rest.

The combination of JMS’s writing and Ribic’s art bring to life the emotions felt by the people that the Silver Surfer interacts with, and each person has their own unique voice, unique view of life and each is impacted differently. JMS really is a brilliant character writer, he is able to tell this vast tale through so many small moments. Each moment slowly unfolds to show the bigger picture and though, at times, the message wasn’t subtle, the book didn’t bludgeon you with rhetoric and clichés. There was a poetry to the words written by Straczynski, a magic to the art by Ribic that did justice to the underlying tale being told.

We should take each day as it comes, we as a race need to look over the minor differences between us, we live an amazing life in an amazing world and we need to count ourselves lucky. When we know that the end is near, we all rush to do the things that we have always wanted, that we have been too scared to do or too stupid not to do. We don’t realise how much of our lives we have wasted until it is too late,
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Beyond the Big 2: November 2008

by Matt

I love going through the Previews magazine every month. I spend hours going through every page, reading every solicitation and I usually find something that piques my interest. Each month I try to pick up a new book that is NOT part of the "Big 2". Here are a couple of new books that I am giving a try in January from the November 2008 Previews.

I apologize for the lateness of this column (I skipped a month) and I have no other reason than being just plain lazy. That and I quit my hellish job and have discovered the hard work and joy of becoming self employed. This month, I am combining the October and November 2008 Previews and will first look at the lone title I am picking up from the November Previews.

By Joe Casey (W) • ChrisCross (A)
Published by Top Cow Comics
Product Code NOV082293
Another Pilot Season winner gets its `series premiere.` Cyberforce`s resident speedster, Velocity, gets her own solo series because you voted for it! Even with her super-speed, it seems the past still has its way of catching up with Carin Taylor. When a certain blue-skinned mogul reappears in her life to make her an offer she shouldn't`t refuse, Velocity discovers that saying no can get her killed!

I was a HUGE fan of Cyberforce back in the day and I have picked up any book that stars any of the Cyberforce characters. I thought that the Velocity Pilot was the best one of the batch and I was happy to learn that she won. I was also very happy to hear that artist ChrisCross signed on to pencil the series. I loved his art from the old Captain Marvel days and I am excited to pick this up. Hopefully this will be better than the Cyblade series that has recently come out.

I also am only trying out one title for the month of October.

By Christos Gage (W) • Roberto Viacava (A)
Published by Avatar Comics
Product Code OCT083886
John Dusk is a man of honor. He has been fighting crime inside the rules of the law. He respects the laws he's been sworn to uphold. But day after day, bringing in the same scum, and watching the revolving door of justice, there comes a time when a man is pushed too far. When you're bound by rules that the bad guys ignore, when the criminals are going free, when the worst kind of man is loosed on the world, when do you finally take a stand? Where do you draw the line between being the good guy, and getting the job done - for good? Absolution is the story of masked heroes pushed to the brink, standing on their own, and against their best friends. Sometimes, a man just needs killing.

Christos Gage's work on the Man With No Name and Union Jack have won me over and have made me look for his name and I couldn't resist trying this series out.

I get all my comics, trades and hard covers through Mailordercomics.com. Click on the banner below and you visit their site and you can order these books (and anything else from the November Previews) at huge discounts.


I'll see you next month with some more picks and hopefully on time to boot! Also look for my other column Beyond the Big 2: Preview Review where I will be reviewing picks that I made in earlier columns. I have a whole slew of books to review this time. I will be reviewing SOLOMON KANE #1, CYBLADE #1, GI JOE: A NEW BEGINNING #0, SPEAK OF THE DEVIL HC, PROJECT SUPERPOWERS VOL 02 THE SUPREMACY #0, ZEN INTERGALACTIC NINJA #0, FLASH GORDON #1, and GHOST OMNIBUS VOL 1.

Yikes! I have a lot of work to do!
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Waited for the trade: Aliens Omnibus Vol. 1

This format was reviewed on the site a little while back, and I liked the sound of it, so I took a look at the offerings available from Dark Horse, and though there were a few interesting titles, this series stood out from the rest. I’ve always liked the mythos behind the Aliens series, both the films and the books, so thought I’d dive right in. With no idea of when the original books where published, or how they fit into the continuity of the movies, I opened the omnibus and dived right in. The first of the books collected in this Omnibus was Outbreak

The book opens with a very quick, very basic retelling of (what I remember to be) the second movie of the franchise, Aliens. It is told from the perspective of “Billie” who I have taken to be “newt” from that film, who is now in a mental institution. Now, for me, this is the make or break of a decent “extended universe” or franchise book, how much of the back story does the reader know, and how to bring them up to speed. A good book won’t waste time with rerunning the whole back story, but you also need to give a nod in the direction of the source material.

Outbreak’s writer Mark Verheiden does a good job of bringing everyone up to date without labouring the point. The writing over all is good, not brilliant, as the book is quite dense and, living in a world of decompressed writing, it can get a bit much at times. The story overall is very good though, and plays on the themes set up in the later movies and the books where the government and Earth based companies want to monetise the Aliens through the use of them as biological weapons.

The book runs two parallel, but ultimately connected, storylines, one is about a mission led by a survivor from the mission to Rim (the second movie in the Alien franchise) and the freed Billie. It is around here that the book gets a little messy, now bear in mind this may be down to the fragmented way in which I read the book, or it could well be an underlying messiness in the scripting. A few scenes on-board the flight get confusing with a couple of the characters, though you can work out what is going on, it is a case of not knowing who exactly is carrying out these shenanigans.

The second storyline deals with Earth based events, a domestic infestation, and a cult that worships these aliens as the new coming of Christ?, as a saviour. This storyline bring up some interesting issues with the creatures, not only their goals, but how they go about achieving them. We learn a lot about the motivation of the aliens, what it is that they hope to achieve through these colonies. We learn that they are more than just mindless creatures, and are cunning, intelligent beings, which makes the plans of the Corporation that much more chilling.

The art was decent, pretty realistic, quite graphic in places, it wasn’t anything special, but did enough. Though they did try to capture the tone of the movies, it didn’t quite come through.

The second book is Nightmare Asylum With the same writer but this time the art is provided by Dan Beauvias and, barring one part where it is really rushed, the art is very well done. When it needs to, it captures the dark tone of the book, but the rest of the time it provides a cleaner, clinical feel to the story, therefore really amplifying the danger and darkness of the aliens.

The story continues from the end of the first book, with Wilks and Billie on a cargo ship to some unknown destination. We continue to follow the adventures and misfortunes of the pair while we learn more about the military’s plan for the aliens.

The state of planet Earth is explored some more, with live (TV) feeds being sent out by some of the survivors. We follow the fate of one pair, an Uncle and niece who are trying their best to remain alive on Earth. You can see what the writer was trying to do with this, adding a more “human” face to the book, adding in some characters you can sympathise with, almost empathise with, but they have been given such little screen time that they just become an annoyance.

The main story was very interesting though. It was based around a military commander’s attempt to “civilize” and train these aliens and make them into a more loyal army. Of all the military people in this universe, he is the only one that seems to have an understanding of the true nature of these creatures, of their intelligence and capabilities.

I’m not going to spoil the story, as I prefer to review the book rather than the plot, so while better than the first, both in terms of art and pacing, the book still isn’t quite hitting the notes of the first couple of movies. Though with four volumes of the Aliens omnibus out the stories must have caught the imagination of a fair few readers out there, and hopefully the quality keeps on improving.

Female War is the reason there are three more volumes. This book has come on in leaps and bounds with regard to the first two. It helps that the art is by Sam Keith, which really adds to the flow and dynamism of the book. At no point is it dark and broody as you would imagine an Aliens book, but the flow and structure of the book is so much better. The story flows so well, the art actually accentuates the story rather than just being there, as it was in the two previous books.

The other thing that came to light while reading this book, is that my assessment of the recap in the first book might have been off, it might have recapped the first Alien film and not the second, as that seems to be the one recapped here!

At one point it was rather confusing as I wasn’t sure if it was a recap or actually part of the new story, but it all worked itself out in the end. And boy what a story it was, very high octane all energy fun, well as much fun as it can be reading a book about an alien species decimating earth and those in charge of saving us, protecting us being corrupt and essentially in league with those that want to see our end. This time there was essentially only the one story, though it did dovetail the two previous stories, the people on earth and the extermination of the aliens. The writing has also really improved, you can tell that the writer now has a better understanding of the medium, as he has come from a TV / Screenplay background.

Finally we have a couple of small stories to cap off the book. First, is a diary account by a biologist that worked for the company and the Aliens project. He talks about the nature of the beast, its cultures and evolution, why they do what they do, and then, after that, came another short story. Though short in numbers of pages it was immense in scope, it really did tell a hell of a tale. I can’t really say anything about it, as it will spoil the story, but it covers a lot of themes that have come up during the three books in the omnibus: the nature of man, the nature of these aliens and the consequences of the interaction between the two. This last story has convinced me to pick up the second trade, which I would not have done otherwise. The book is ok, the art passable for the most part, but until this last little tale, it really didn’t engage me enough to carry on the series. Even the impressive third book, Female War, was not enough to bring me back to this universe; but this has.
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Panelology - Veeps Interview with Bill Kelter

by Brandon

With the presidential election just a couple of days away, all attention is turning towards this important moment in our country. We all know it has been an interesting campaign season, but one of the more interesting storylines has been that of the vice-presidential candidates. Or should we say candidate? Sarah Palin has grabbed the nation's attention while Joe Biden has, you know, occupied some space and consumed some oxygen here and there. What most people don't realize is that people have laughed at the vice-president before Governor Palin rolled around. With so much attention being given to the number two spot, it is a little bit more than a happy coincidence that Top Shelf is publishing a book in November on the #2 spot on the presidential ticket. Veeps by Bill Kelter and Wayne Shellabarger details the often humorous history of the most prominent sidekick in the nation.

I interviewed writer Bill Kelter recently about the presidential race and the creative process with his upcoming book.

BJM: Let's start from the beginning; why the interest in Vice Presidents? What fascinates you about these seemingly insignificant figures?

BK: A lot of people are fascinated with train wrecks, and I always had a perverse fascination with powerful figures who have had power land in their laps and have for whatever reason been wont to spray their gorgeously-appointed room—with almost everything they could ever desire—with lighter fluid and drop a Zippo on the carpet.

Somewhere around the mid-1990s, as I read more and more political history, I started making a mental inventory of so many of America’s leading politicians who had brought disgrace upon their careers, and at first it seemed like so many of them appeared to have served as America’s Vice Presidents.

Take Spiro Agnew, for example. He had a bizarrely meteoric rise, in five years, from Baltimore County Executive to Governor of Maryland to Vice President in six years. A dream job, right? Well, when he came to Washington he couldn’t leave behind a kickback agreement he’d made with a number of construction execs when he was governor. A deal’s a deal, I guess, but this kind of shakedown seems like the kind of thing that should be far, far behind you when you’re the second-most powerful man in the country—and you certainly shouldn’t be making men come personally to Washington to deliver bundles of cash to you.

Nelson Rockefeller didn’t disgrace himself while he was Vice President, but I was always fascinating by his tawdry demise of a heart attack while allegedly mixing it up with his mistress, just two years after he left office. I remember Doris Kearns Goodwin on “Imus In The Morning” in 1997 describing the aftermath of Rockefeller dying in the saddle, as it were. His aides scrambled frantically for an hour before they called an ambulance, trying to put his clothes back on and prop him up in his chair as if he were reading a newspaper when he expired apparently in a romp with a woman 44 years his junior.

And of course Dan Quayle…well, to call him dumber than a boxful of rocks is patently unfair to rocks.

BJM: How did you guys meet? What made you want to write a book about the Vice Presidents's together?

BK: Well, I don’t know if we misled anyone with the Merle Stickney article we have linked from www.veeps.us. But we really weren’t, unbeknownst to one another, present at Spiro Agnew’s first swearing-in. Wayne would have still been in his mother’s womb at the time, and, though I was a very ambitious toddler, I think such an event was still out of my grasp. Still, Spiro Agnew was the kind of man who could captivate any young child, if only in a Voldemort sort of way.

Wayne and I went to the same high school (Hood River Valley High School, in Hood River, Oregon), but never attended at the same time. We met in 1987 at the University Of Oregon, at the urging of my brother-in-law, from whom we both took English classes at HRVHS.

We hit it off immediately and launched a handful of really great and hilarious collaborations that have never seen the light of the day. They’re in the slush pile. They might yet emerge.

The Veeps Project originated from one very drunk morning at my apartment in the Corbett-Lair Hill neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, in late 1999. I was single, two years after my girlfriend had moved out. While she was there, she prodded me into nudging the landlord into letting us retile the bathroom floor. We replaced an old brown-and-white floral linoleum with alternating 10”x10” tiles of white and British Racing Green. At this point, I already had a minor fascination percolating with America’s disgraced Vice Presidents.

On that morning in question one December many years ago, I was drunkenly brushing my teeth at 7:00 AM, after a long night of imbibing, and while I was looking at my floor to kill the time while I scrubbed my chompers, for some reason, it occurred to me that a great use of these bare white vinyl tiles might be to have portraits of disgraced Vice President laminated on each, with a quote highlighting their signature indiscretion.

BJM: Let's size up the current Vice Presidential running mates on the two major tickets. First up, let's look at Barack Obama's choice Joe Biden. What do you guys make of him? What does he bring to the table for Obama?

BK: As for Biden, I said that he was a one-man rapid response team, and the perfect attack dog for the Obama campaign. I don’t know how well that’s played out so far, but he earned his paycheck last Thursday. He didn’t let himself get accused of bullying her and he was like a jackhammer stressing the Bush-McCain connection.

BJM: On the other side (the dark side, perhaps), we have the current media darling Sarah Palin. What do you guys make of her? Besides ovaries and a bit of pizazz, what would she bring to a McCain White House?

BK: Sarah Palin was a novelty pick, imposed by McCain’s handlers, to, first, seize the news cycle after Obama’s Invesco Field speech (never mind that taking the nominating speech out of the convention hall hasn’t been done since JFK moved his speech from the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena to the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1960, but it was no small feat cramming 84,000 people in a stadium with an official capacity of 76,125—and we were in Denver, and it was an impossible ticket to get), and, second, to shore up the base. Both worked—McCain/Palin owned the news cycle for the next two weeks, and everyone all but forgot about Obama’s speech. As for the latter, McCain shouldn’t have had to shore up the right. The other spin originally was that picking her would attract disgruntled/disaffected Hillary voters, but that was a dog that was never going to hunt, and it was as cynical as George H.W. Bush picking Clarence Thomas to succeed Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court.

She’s not stupid by any means, but she ain’t ready for The Show, to cite a Bull Durham reference, at least with her experience to this point. Leaving partisan politics out of it, I have to side with CNN’s Jack Cafferty, who said about a little over a week ago, "If John McCain wins this woman will be one 72-year-old's heartbeat away from being President of the United States. And if that doesn't scare the hell out of you, it should."

“Word” as the kids used to say. Not to drop a Hillary Obama/RFK comment, but in this case, any insurance actuarial table would suggest that there’s a significant chance that a President McCain may well leave the White House in a mahogany box. Look at how the office aged, for example, LBJ, Bill Clinton, and the current Bush. Now, look at McCain, and he hasn’t even made it through one Presidential campaign yet.

That said, if she is the one who winds up giving the State Of The Union Address in 2010 or 2011 or 2012, you can be fairly sure that it isn’t going to be her who’s actually running the country.

One thing is for sure: There has never been an election in U.S. history where we’re still talking so much about a Vice Presidential nominee more than a week after she was nominated. A lot of people tuned in out of curiosity for Dan Quayle’s debate with Senator Lloyd Bentsen in 1988, hoping they’d see a bloody accident (and those who did were richly rewarded, with one of the greatest live television moments of all time), but Dan Quayle was merely a dunce. Sarah Palin is far more dangerous. Never mind the Couric and Gibson interviews, she’s being trained furiously and she’s learning her lessons. She’ll carry the water for the far right and she’s smart enough to take direction and trot out her inner beauty queen to effectively work any room she’s in. Back in ’88 there were the usual “heartbeat away” questions, but the then 64-year-old George Herbert Walker Bush was not that old and looked like Michael Phelps compared to the Arizona Senator his current state.

BJM: Now that we have those two out of the way, let's talk about the current Vice President, Dick Cheney. At the very least, he's been one of the most infamous Vice Presidents in the modern era. What do you think his legacy has been on the position of Vice President?

BK: After so many monumentally insignificant holders of the office, he’s clearly redefined the position—possibly to the point that it needs to be forcefully defined by the next occupant. You could make an argument that no one should be taking orders from George Bush, but he does have the bigger desk, and it’s been a running joke throughout the last two terms that it’s been Cheney running the country. That was a little less funny when it was learned that Bush attempted to dispatch his Vice President to go on damage control for Hurricane Katrina, and his VP said, in essence, “Well, I’ll do it if you want me to, but…no.”

BJM: Top Shelf Productions will be publishing your book Veeps in November. What made you guys decide to go with Top Shelf?

We didn’t choose them. They chose us—and we couldn’t have been luckier. Wayne published a book of his brilliant concert poster art (I’m Totally Helpless [http://www.topshelfcomix.com/catalog.php?title=172]) in 1996.

Brett Warnock and Chris Staros love a gorgeous book, and they’ve made a great investment in Veeps. These guys are champs, and when they believe in something and someone, they’re in for a dollar, in for a dime. I’ve talked to a handful of other authors who have talked about handing over their book and losing their vision. That’s never been an issue with Top Shelf in rolling out Veeps. Wayne and I have sat in rickety chairs at Brett’s desk, late at night and stupid from lack of sleep, going through the manuscript one page and portrait and illustration at a time, trying to get it right.

BJM: On the art end of the spectrum, how many sketches did each VP require? Did some get left on the cutting room floor? Can we expect a VP swimsuit special?

BK: As for the swimsuit special, good Lord, I hope not. I think we’ve all seen enough of that portion of Sarah’s 1984 Miss Alaska competition (although I suppose there are some who would argue that John Cabell Breckinridge might look good in a Speedo).

BJM: Based on many of the samples provided on your web page, there aren't many places in terms of content that you guys don't go in this book. Were there any VP stories that were just too out there, uncorroborated, or outlandish to publish?

BK: No, not really. I remember one Quayle line that turned out to be false ("I was recently on a tour of Latin America, and the only regret I have was that I didn't study Latin harder in school so I could converse with those people.") Compared to so many of the factual bludgeonings that really did pour out of his mouth, that this wasn’t real wasn’t much of a loss.

Actually, there’s a Palin story that I really wanted to report on a blog entry (and hopefully in a Palin entry in a second printing of Veeps—either as an Also-Ran entry or, God help us all, Chapter 47). There was a story making the rounds through much of September that her Iraq-bound son, Track Palin, had vandalized something like 110 school buses and a judge ordered him to enlist in the military or face jail time. I knew the judge angle was pretty flaccid, at best—to my knowledge, that hasn’t happened since the 1950s, and even then maybe only in B movies about a Bad Boy who finds redemption being forced to defend his country. I was mainly interested to see if the vandalism charge was true, but besides some breathless rants from the blogosphere, and a few of them who got their calls through to progressive talk radio, there was no “there” there, and no mainstream media source ever reported it. So, it would have made a great story, but it doesn’t seem like it really happened. But again, like Quayle, the bounty of confirmed Palin stories is a gift that keeps on giving, so that this one probably isn’t true was also only a small loss.

Really, what I found in my research was that VP history was a gusher. When my fascination started, I began with just a few outlandish examples, but as I went on with researching and writing the book, it was like turning over rocks in the garden-- ugly, slimy, fascinating, wiggling things under every one.

BJM: If you had to pick a favorite VP, who would you pick and why?

BK: I’ve gotten this many times. In our movie, we rave about Spiro Agnew, but it’s a movie and we were in character—defending him in a wide-eyed, naïve, and somewhat blind way, befitting our unconditionally VP-obsessed characters--but in reality, with a straight face, the racist bully/corruption angle makes him a bit repugnant and indefensible. But damned his speeches have a great cadence.

But if I have to vote for the overall package, my pick has been and still is Thomas Riley Marshall. This was a brilliant, funny man in a job that was beneath him. Sitting in his office as tour groups passed, he one day yelled at the passing visitors, “If you look on me as a wild animal, be kind enough to throw peanuts at me.”

He summed up the regrettable reality of his office with this self-penned job description of his place in the Office of the Vice Presidency: “To acknowledge the insignificant influence of the office; to take it in a good-natured way; to be friendly and well disposed to political friend and foe alike, to be loyal to my chief and at the same time not to be offensive to my associates.”

After his second term, he was asked what he wanted to do in retirement. “Well, I don’t want to work. I wouldn’t mind being Vice President again.”

BJM: Here's the budget line. Why should people be interested in a book about the Vice Presidents?

BK: Besides Wayne’s elegant and amazingly rich portraits and illustrations, this is a treasure trove of head-scratching political tales that have escaped the attention of the curious over the last few generations. Excepting the popular tales of Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton, and Dick Cheney shooting Harry Whittington, any question about our Vice Presidents draws a Homer Simpson stare from most. That’s not a comment on our collective intellectual curiosity, or the quality of our education system. It’s quite simply an area of our history where no one imagined there was anything interesting or edifying. The office itself has been treated with so little respect—not the least of which by our Presidents, even some of those who have been Vice Presidents themselves—that it never occurred to most of us that there would be anything about the office they would care to know.

BJM: What's next for you gentlemen?

BK: I’m all for fame, six or seven printings of Veeps, a baker’s dozen or more of collaborations between Wayne and myself, and a mention on TMZ.com every two or three days. And a Blackberry. I just want to own a Blackberry.

And actually, Wayne already owns a Blackberry, so he’s already ahead of me on that point.
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Waited for the Trade: A Batch of Shorties

by Dan

With the craziness of my job the last several weeks (thanks stock markets!), I've been completely MIA from most things Internet. Yet, the comics and trades kept on coming. So, here's some shorty reviews of sixteen trades and graphic novels from nine different publishers. From the excellent Black Summer and Immortal Iron Fist to the complete opposite of excellent Black Diamond and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed plus plenty in between.

Army @ Love Vol. 2: Generation Pwned – More often than not, I love Rick Veitch’s writer/artist work. But after giving up on the critically acclaimed Can’t Get No, I was worried going into Army @ Love. Thankfully, this has been an awesome satire book with plenty of sex, drugs and war. A wonderfully crafted series that ended all too soon (there is a second “season” out now, but I’ve read that it goes in a very different, yet interesting, direction). B+

Authority: Prime – Authority fights StormWatch and it’s all Bendis’ fault. I always knew that guy was up to something! Wait, Bendix, not Bendis. Eh. Much less interesting now. An okay check in with the WildStorm universe, but after the excellent Authority Revolution it’s a clear step down in quality. C+

Black Diamond – For a story about a cross-country, raised superhighway they spend WAY too much time on anything but the cross-country, raised superhighway. Overall, this was really disappointing. The art at the beginning was just not my thing, but when it became more iconic and more graphic designer-y at the end, I really enjoyed it. D-

Black Summer – This was just an awesome Warren Ellis series. Mostly, I saw it to be Ellis' final word on The Authority and what a terrible path they would eventually have taken. Gory and violent with lots of commentary about the U.S. government. Great stuff. A

Classic Battlestar Galactica – I don’t know why, but I still dig the original Battlestar stuff more than the new. Granted, I lost track of the new show after the first season and Dynamite flooding the market with “New” Battlestar books has been too overwhelming to follow. Thankfully, Rick Remender (a fave writer thanks to Dark Horse’s Fear Agent) was let loose on the old characters and creates a fun episode of the classic show. B

Criminal Macabre: My Demon Baby – I was regretting this purchase before I read it, as I couldn't really remember how I felt about the first two collections I read years ago (apparently there's been two more that I missed). That said, I completely dug this four-issue story. Niles has a lot of Ellis in his lead character, Cal McDonald. Lots of dark humor fun and I may have to figure out what the other two books are and grab those. B

Immortal Iron Fist Vol. 2: The 7 Capital Cities of Heaven – I’ve never been an Iron Fist or Heroes for Hire or Kung Fu fan. Ever. And yet, I completely and thoroughly enjoy this title and all its Iron Fist-tastic history. I did get a little confused with who was who, including the reveal at the end that references the annual included earlier in the collection. So, sometimes there is too much history and too many characters to keep straight, but that just makes me want to sit down and read Brubaker and Faction’s entire run once volume three comes out. Great art from Aja too. This is quality comics. A-

Maintenance Vols. 1 & 2 – This Oni series just makes me giggle. Thanks to Customer Appreciation Day (aka Free Comic Book Day) for finding this one. Reading these on the can is fun, but got surreal when our trusty janitors took an adventure into the can. B+

Mini Marvels: Rock, Paper, Scissors – Turns out I've read a bunch of these shorts featuring the Bullpen Bits characters and, in all honesty, it's just not that funny the second time around. Some of the later stories that riff on Marvel events like Civil War and World War Hulk are amusing, but overall this just doesn't hold up to multiple reads. B-

New York Four – Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly do it again. Although I was frustrated by the fact that there could be a lot more story told and, more than likely, it won't happen. B+

Power Pack: Day One – A fun revamp of the kids' origin story. I've never read the original version, but I'm sure this has been updated to be, ya know, entertaining. Anyone that's been reading this series of mini-series will enjoy this about as much as the others. I'm really looking forward to the Skrulls digest though. B-

Star Trek: The Return of the Worthy – The last reprint Titan did of the old DC version of the original Trek. The main story about The Worthy was a completely predictable, 100% Trek message type of story. Not bad, but nothing new either. C+

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – When I preordered this, I was already dropping the last of the Dark Horse titles, Legacy, from my pull list. I figured this was a last shot at Dark Horse’s current Star Wars universe (although I am checking out the current Clone Wars mini). Even more concerning was the fact that this book was based on the video game of the same name and was serving as a way to fill in some of the back-story. Unfortunately, the book reads like a video game with all the paces and boss challenges included. This is definitely not for anyone but fans of the game, and even then I’m not sure it’s good on any level. D

Too Cool to be Forgotten – Very cool story that gets somewhat sidetracked/rushed at the end in order to wrap up the main ideas about father/son even though 90% of the book was just about the son. I get what Robinson was going for, and he succeeds for that 90%, but I wish the end had been drawn out or built up to better. A-

Wolverine: Death of Wolverine – This collection starts off interesting enough with Jason Aaron and Howard Chaykin’s “Man in the Pit” issue. Wolverine has been captured and put in a pit where he’s shot a few hundred times every 15 minutes to keep him subdued. The rest of the collection is Marc Guggenheim and Chaykin’s Logan Dies story, which rewrites Wolverine’s healing powers as a literal fight with Death every time he’s extremely injured. A bit odd, but, like the first story interesting. Unfortunately Chaykin’s art is incredibly distracting – sketchy and blocky with odd close ups. B-

Wolverine: Get Mystique – Hey, a Wolverine story that actually ties in to current continuity! Wolverine is chasing down Mystique after her betrayal during Messiah CompleX. Cool enough of an idea. Unfortunately, it gets a bit convoluted due to writer Jason Aaron throwing them into the middle of Iraq and Afghanistan for no real reason other than those are topically locations. C
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On November 4th -- DON'T VOTE!!!

by Chris

This is not comic book related, but I felt it was too important a message not to share.

So get out there and be heard! Read more!


BG Roundtable: $3.99 Comics?

by the General

Both Rich from Comic By Comic and other Rich from Lying in the Gutters have recently noted that Marvel is trending toward a $3.99 price tag for their comics. And, both acknowledged that, if it seems to work for Marvel, DC can't be far behind.

While all this is still speculation at this point, comic fans have always been fond of speculation; so I decided to sit our regular irregulars down for a little Roundtable and ask the question: How would a $3.99 price tag affect your comic buying habits?

Now, ignoring arguments about inflation, do you all think that this would affect your collecting habits? I generally roll with these sorts of punches, but honestly, I think it will affect mine. With the discount I get through Mail Order Comics, I still limit myself to $50 a month. And, if all comics increase by that much, that cuts the total number of titles I can buy by roughly a third.

Now, I know I will most likely always pick up a couple of monthly. But, at what point to I realize that I can get "more bang for my buck" by buying trades exclusively?

Chris: As it is, I think even $2.99 is probably too expensive for most books, but I've been buying them anyway because of the discount I get. That said, I made a promise to myself to start dropping monthly books as they begin to go over the $3 mark. Now we hear rumors of $3.99 monthlies? $4 for ten minutes of entertainment (and in some cases even less) is not worth it.

This seems to be a drastic increase in price. Before, we'd get 25 and 50 cent increases. Do publishers really think readers will accept a $1 jump in cover price? It will be interesting to see if such a jump will cause drastic changes in the purchasing habits of their readers. When that happens, I'll be switching to trades.

Yassir: Too expensive. Like Chris says, even 2.99 is too expensive. Trades are the only way to go. I'll probably still buy the odd monthlies but it's ridiculous the price of comics nowadays.

Dan: This jump is just as big percentage-wise, 33%, as the jump from 75c to $1, $1.50 to $1.99 and $2.25 to $2.99.

Personally, the jump to $3.99 has already impacted my buying. Marvel's recent rash of one-shots and now all their new mini-series and some new ongoings have made me consider each title. I'm no where near the carefree buyer I was just a few months ago. Asking $4 cover price for a 22 pages of comic that is supplemented with a dozen pages of ads definitely makes me consider the "entertainment value for my dollar" equation. And, honestly, there's not a lot of value in something that costs me $4 and I get 10-15 minutes use out of.

Looking at my most recent order, yeah, I bit on the $3.99 What If specials, but I LURVE What If. I wanted to get the Ennis/Dillon Punisher mini in single issues, but Marvel decided to make it a weekly six-issue mini. That means $16 upfront and $24 overall. Nope. Not going to happen. If I decide it's something I really need in trade, I'll wait for that. If it's something I just want to read, I'll hope it shows up at my local library.

So, yeah, $3.99 for Marvel and DC appears to be my breaking point. While it won't keep me from reading my mainstays (as long as my monthly order keeps around $150), it's already got me rethinking anything new.

The same standard doesn't apply to Image books and other small publishers though. That said, you get more bang for your buck from them. Savage Dragon recently went up to $3.50 an issue. But Larsen has always included back-up stories and letters pages and pin-ups. There's always more than just 22 pages of story and 10pages of ads. That's worth the little bit extra to me.

Rory: I rarely buy any new comics - I'm entrenched in my old books that I've been buying forever (i.e. Fables, 100 Bullets, Usagi Yojimbo). There is a lot of factors that have driven me away from comics, and this price increase may just be the Nail in the Coffin™.

Vince: I'm planning on cutting back my monthly comic buying if the price goes up to $3.99.

$3 was too much to spend for a comic and with the industry allowing more and more delays with big events that seem to go nowhere, I think it's getting to be time for me to bow out of monthly comics.

I'll probably still collect the occasional trade, but $4 is a lot of money for a decompressed story that takes forever to get to the point.

Dan: A follow up thought: One of the other factors in me spending $4 on a comic, more so than ever, is whether or not it's any good or maybe even great. Fables, Jack of Fables and DMZ are all stand-out reads every month. They aren't just great comics, but great stories, regardless of the medium. Those are books I'll continue to check out because I think the value is still there at $4.

On the other hand, anything that's been iffy is going to get a lot shorter stay of execution in a $4 a pop world. If something like Hulk, Young X-Men and the new War Machine better be knocking my socks off if they decide to go to $4.

Tim: Is the direct, monthly, market even viable anymore?

Most of the growth we see in comics comes from trades. Runaways, Sentinel, Fables, Preacher, Transmet - all series that found a market and profitability in the TPB format rather than monthlies. Rising costs are surely just another sign that people are actually buying less and less on a month-in, month-out basis (along with generally tougher times).

Is it really a coincidence that Marvel are outperforming DC so much these days? Look at DC's output - geared towards the collector who knows his history, with a spotty trading approach. Marvel, on the other hand, has been pushing arcs and TPB friendly stories as well as generally doing a good job of getting everything into that format anyhow.

My point is that, right now, if you're reading the monthlies in preference to trades you're part of a side that's heading towards extinction. Comics are healthy, monthlies aren't - and it's not just the price. The price is a reflection that the market these days doesn't really want a monthly throwaway, and certainly not new readers. If you do want the format, you're going to pay a premium, as with any minority interest.

Now, how the market looks as it shifts towards long-form and where the content comes from instead of repackaging the short form... that's another question altogether. But comics are slowly evolving away form them and we should let it happen.

Doug: I don't think I'll approach each issue on a price-point basis and say "4 bucks is too much", but I'll still end up having to drop a lot of titles since my total budget won't support them. I allot a certain amount each month for single issues, and a certain amount for trades and graphic novels. So, the number of series I buy in monthly format will decrease.

The bad thing is, I fear that the series that will be most affected by this will be those series that already reside in the lower half of the top 100. Marvel's had decent success with B-listers like Iron Fist, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, and Ms. Marvel, but I suspect that if fans have to start dropping titles, those books will be hurt more than the long-running books like X-Men or Spider-Man.

One more thought: it's interesting that Marvel's experimenting with more original on-line content at the same time that their price points are heading upwards. How long before a low seller like NOVA becomes the first series to go from print to digital so that it can avoid cancellation? And will fans accept that new format?

The General: Thanks everyone for your time and thoughts! So, I think its safe to say that none of us are excited about the idea of $3.99 comics, if they ever become the norm. And, that in all likelihood, it would affect our collecting.

Also, I think this question helped raise some other questions that regularly plague the comic industry: Are monthlies still even viable? Are trades and original graphic novels the route of the future? Or online comics? And, if so, how does the industry get there? Interesting stuff.

So, intrepid reader, what do you think?
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Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (Review)

by Jon Quixote

a.k.a. What If…? The Video Game.

“With great power comes great responsibility. But I didn’t know what power was..”

In 20 words or less: Playable mechanics plus a dark, interesting storyline help overcome this game's many other flaws. Many, many, many other flaws. (19)

Spider-Man video games have come a long way since they had us moving a blocky red wall-crawler up a yellow building to get at a blocky Green Goblin.

At least, they’ve come a long way graphically. That Atari 2600 entry’s legacy of repetition and annoyance lives on. From cheap blocky caveman video games to cheap movie tie-ins, when I pick up a Spider-Man video game I’m usually pretty certain of one thing – it’ll be cool for about 15 minutes, and then I’ll either get frustrated or bored. When the best entry in your franchise was back on the Sega Genesis, your franchise is nothing to write to mom about.

Web of Shadows therefore has a pretty low bar to clear to hit “average” status. It clears it, but its ass gives it a bump. This is a problematic game that falls into the same boring and repetitive action trap that characterize its recent predecessors. However, Shaba Games and Activision have managed to come up with a control system that really makes you feel like Spider-Man in motion without sacrificing knowledge of what the hell is going on. And the storyline is different and compelling enough that I was willing to slog through a number of “find bad guys, punch bad guys” missions just to find out what happens next, and what moral grey areas I could take my Spidey into.

The storyline behind Web of Shadows is 60% Spider-Man and 40% 28 Days Later. Venom has returned, New York is being invaded by symbiotes, the citizens are being transformed, and panic and chaos rule the day. Spider-Man is one of the infected, but because of his previous history with the black-suit, he’s able to control its influence and use its powers to fight the invasion. And throughout the game, with the touch of a button, you're able to switch between the symbiote and the classic red and blues in order to take advantage of different powers and techniques.

The cool conceit behind Web of Shadows is that exactly how well Spidey is able to control its influence is up to you. At regular story intervals, you’re able to choose one of two paths: the light or the dark. This is where the “What If…?” comes into play. Spider-Man can go to some pretty dark places here – alternate universe dark. The game doesn’t really hold back, and takes some creative chances that you don’t usually see in a family-friendly franchise video game.

I’ve played Web of Shadows once through now, consciously picking the dark option at just about every interval. And Spider-Man and I collaborated on some messed-up stuff. Let’s just say that MJ is going to need major counseling, I’m officially off Wolverine’s Christmas card list, and Venom? Let’s just say that when the brain-eating monster trying to destroy the city gets taken out by our hero, my predominant thought was “Wow Spidey, that was a real dick move.”

If you think Wolverine's grotesque now, wait 'til Dark Spidey gets through with him.

The “choose your path” feature is all the rage in video games, and I found it effective here, probably because I already had such a knowledge and affinity for the characters. Choosing to save a little zombie child or to harvest her for her powers isn’t really much of a choice – she’s just some creepy kid designed with that choice in mind. But choosing to blow off Mary Jane to shack up with the Black Cat is (Well, not for me. I’ve always had a thing for platinum blondes; thank you, Mark Holmes). The result was that I was very willing to slog through 20-30 minutes of “jump punch punch punch jump punch punch punch” to get to the next “choice.”

Some of the boss battles are also pretty creative, as far as these things go. Again, the developers make good use of the Spidey-universe. For example, when I was protecting a church from symbiote attack, I was reminded to make good use of the bell in the tower (at least, as long as I wasn’t in my black suit at the time.) And battles against Electro, the Vulture and Wolverine all felt distinct and “in character.”

Unfortunately, the repetition crept into there too. The first fight against the Vulture was a blast. The second fight against Symbiote-Vulture reeked of “this again?” Ditto Electro. Ditto Wolverine (except that Symbiote-Wolverine was pretty cool).

And while the game play managed to play into Spidey’s speed and agility without making me feel like I was just mashing buttons without knowing what was going on until the dust settled, it also could have been better. The idiotic camera A.I. almost sunk the game and meant that I avoided using walls and buildings in my battles whenever I could. And maybe it was just me, but I couldn’t figure out how to use my “allies” in battle. Not that I needed them – another knock on Web of Shadows is that it’s pretty easy. Or maybe I’m just awesome.

So for the most part, Web of Shadows doesn’t fix the problems that have plagued Spider-Man games since the first movie tie-in hit shelves. The simplified, intuitive controls help, but it’s still marked by repetitive, tiring gameplay.

But Web of Shadows pays enough attention to the characters and the plot, and take enough chances with those two things, that it makes the mediocre mechanics tolerable. The bottom line is that this is a playable game that does a pretty good job of putting Spidey in my hands, and once that novelty wore off, the storyline was imaginative enough to keep me playing through ‘til the end.

Grade: B. Rent It. It's no classic, but it delivers a decent and different Spider-Man fix.
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Shout Outs! and Scream Ats! Vol. II

by Matt

Welcome to my second “Shout Out/Scream At!” column! With this column I will be taking a look at what makes me a happy fanboy (Shout Outs!) and what frustrates me (Scream Ats!) within the comic industry. With this column I will be covering Omnibus’s, Nowhere Man, Final Crisis, Jim Valentino and the Guardians of the Galaxy and Dave Lapham’s Young Liars.

SHOUT OUT! Absolute Omnibus Fever!
Seems like every company is putting out large collections of classic material. Type in Absolute or Omnibus when you search at Amazon.com and you will find a ton of new collections. I am WAY excited for the newly announced Captain Britain Omnibus, Secret Wars II Omnibus and Joe Quesada even mentioned an Inferno Omnibus. Keep them coming! DC is finally catching up as well, with the collection of Starman in hardcover along with Absolute Sandman and the Complete Death. Dark Horse has done a terrific job in their collections. Their line of Omnibus's are in full color and are slightly smaller than average trades but they are packed to the gills with comics. I love that Dark Horse is collecting a lot of thier old material like Aliens, Predator, Indiana Jones, Terminator, Ghost, Barb Wire, X and hopefully more. Other companies are getting into this as well. IDW is putting out an Omnibus of Deperadoes and Fallen Angel. Top Cow has also put out full collections of Rising Stars and Midnight Nation. They are also putting out a complete collection of Cyberforce. Checker is putting out larger collections of old Crossgen book as well. And if you purchase your books online, you will usually save quite a bit and you can get your hands on some fantastic collections for pretty cheap.

SCREAM AT! Nowhere Man Canceled
This would have been my first Virgin comic and I was really looking forward to the book. The premise sounded very intriguing and I was certainly looking forward to some fantastic science fiction art by Paul Gulacy. I contacted Liquid Comics to see if they had any news and I will share it here once I get a response. According to Paul Gulacy, he completed issue #0 of Nowhere Man which will be a special 16 page preview of the series. Liquid Comics will be announcing shortly which comics will be published.

SHOUT OUT! Dave Lapham’s Young LiarsI knew I was going to get a book so freaking screwed up with Dave Lapham at the helm. And you would think that if you read his Stray Bullets you would be a little prepared for some messed up crap but I was still totally taken surprise! The story revolves around Sadie and Danny. Danny is in love with Sadie and tries to save her from herself. Sadie is the daughter of the owner of the Brown Bag Superstore and she runs away from her family. Her father sends a group of assassins called the Pinkertons to find her. Sadie was shot in the head before the first issue (we see what happens in flashbacks) and she has a bullet lodged in her brain, which causes her to become a major risk-taker and action junkie. She also suffers from delusions, she thinks she is on the run from "The Spiders from Mars" because they plan to rule Earth. Danny and Sadie have other friends that hang with them and are pursued by the Pinkertons. One thing that Lapham does extremely well in all of his comics is that he has the ability to create characters that have major flaws and problems but writes them in a way that makes you sympathize with them, no matter what dumb choice they make. This book is filled with violence (decapitations, castarations, naked fistfights), twists and you will never know what happens next. This is not a book for the squeamish! The latest issue proves once again that I have no idea what is going to happen next. This issue reveals that Sadie is from Mars and that the Spiders from Mars are real. The Spiders plan to use Sadie to lay millions of eggs on Earth and capture and conquer it. She runs away from her Spider family and comes to Earth and inhabits a young girl. Whether this is just her imagination or this is really what has happened is anyone’s guess. All I know is that I am in for the ride! One of my favorite books! If you are looking for a book that goes down a different street I highly recommend you try this out. A trade Daydream Believer will be released in December.

SCREAM AT! Final Crisis Crisis
The online solicitations for DC for January 2009 came out this week and it looks like there was another art change for the final issue of the delayed Final Crisis event. While I think it was good for Jones to man up and apologize for the delays, I still think DC really screwed the pooch on this event. I might have been a little more forgiving but this had already happened with Infinite Crisis. I was really excited as a fan about the direction DC was taking right before Infinite Crisis came out. Unfortunately DC almost killed all my enthusiasm by delays and art changes made on Infinite Crisis and the endless mini-events and weekly books to keep up. But I was willing to give Final Crisis a try for 2big reasons. I am a sucker for large events and secondly I like Grant Morrison. The first issue intrigued me and I knew that with Morrison it would all make sense down the road but apparently that road has been under construction. Like Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis is suffering from delays and art team changes as well. You would think that a company would learn from its mistakes the first time. More than likely, this will be my final DC event. At one point I was collecting a majority of the big titles DC was publishing, now I am down to just one or two. But unlike most comic fans, I will wait until I get the final issue and read them all at once before I fully quit DC. It just doesn't look good.

SHOUT OUT! Valentino returns to the Guardians of the Galaxy
Jim Valentino’s run on the Guardians of the Galaxy back in the 90’s was one of my favorite books. What I liked about his run was that there seemed to be a natural evolution with his characters. Unlike other Marvel characters like Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four, no matter what happens to the characters, they will ultimately revert back to their core roots. Since the Guardians of the Galaxy were not major Marvel characters, Jim was able to make changes to them and evolve them. Almost all the Guardians went through a major change and that is what made the book so enjoyable. Sadly, when Jim was going to join Image, Marvel fired him from the book. I was overjoyed to find out that Marvel offered Jim to draw an alternate cover to the new Guardians of the Galaxy series with issue #7. It is fantastic of Marvel to extend the olive branch to Jim and honor what fantastic contributions he made to the Guardians of the Galaxy. This makes me want to try out the new series even more!

That's all for this time. I will be back shortly with a new set of Shout Outs! and Scream Ats!. If you are interested, you can see my first column here.
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Panelology - Fanenomics

by Brandon

Yes, this is yet another depressing article on the economy. The economy has fallen like the sales of a new Quasar series. The economy hasn’t just affected those on Wall Street. Comic book fans are keenly aware of the impact a slow-moving economy has on their pastime. As the price for gas, food, and other cost of living items increase, our ability to support our favorite hobby decreases, or it is hampered at best. Try as they might, I haven’t heard Barack Obama or John McCain’s outline a plan for helping out the struggling comic book fan. Obama did mention Superman last weekend and McCain is more and more acting like a piss-poor Spider-Man villain plotting his petty revenge, but that does little for our ability to purchase funny books. So, fans are stuck in limbo, forced to choose between continuing to pick up Title A or Title B because their tightening budget won’t allow for both.

What can a struggling fan do? I offer up a few suggestions this week on how to handle hard economic times as a fan. The advice is free. Trust me, you won't find a better price anywhere!

Cut the Fat
Let’s face it; many of us collect some books out of a misguided sense of loyalty to a character, group of characters, concept, or creative team. While loyalty is one of the most admirable qualities of comic book fans, it doesn’t make sense from an economic perspective. Think about how much time and money is wasted in our hobby on titles people just don’t simply enjoy. Read any comic book message board and you will see misguided fans bemoaning the latest disappointing issue of a title they once, long ago, truly loved and admired.

It’s hard to dump a title you’ve been with for a while. Breaking up is hard to do, even if you don’t really like the title in question. For instance, take my long struggle with Jack of Fables,. Jack and I haven’t really spoken for a year now. The last issue I read of the title was back in New York in November of 2007. Ever since then, our relationship has grown cold. We barely even look at one another, let alone speak. Monthly, I glance his way and quickly stow him in a poly bag, moving onto another without a care as to his feelings. I love Fables, don’t get me wrong, but jack of Fables just seems to be hollow. I’ve read online that many people see something different in Jack that I don’t see, some even claim to love him. Maybe they do. I can’t be sure.

Two weeks ago, as I stared at my monthly order form for Mail Order Comics, I decided it was time to let Jack go. I dropped him from my pull list. As a collector, it’s tough to look at that empty spot in the long box where future issues would go. However, your wallet will thank you.

Quality *AND* Quantity
Quality of the books deeply impacts enjoyment, but so can the actual amount of books you buy monthly. The law of comic book quality states that the more books you buy in a month, the greater the chance is that you won’t enjoy some of them. If you’re like me, finding time to squeeze in all your reading is tough. I’ve learned the hard way that there is just no way to red as many books as I want in a month’s time.

Being choosy can be good for fans. Limiting the number of comic books you purchase in a month makes good monetary and quality control sense. If you tell yourself that you are only going to buy ten comic books a month, it tends to force you into selecting those books you want to have in your read pile as opposed to those you are buying out of habit. Each person has to decide on their limit and stick to it.

Go Team, Go!
When the going gets tough, the team books get going. Team books are an excellent way to enjoy a wide variety of superheroes for a minimum entry price. Superhero teams, especially long established ones, are populated by a broad range of characters, many of them staring in solo books or appearing as supporting cast members for other A-list team members. These books offer lots of character. Think about it as buying superhero books in bulk.

I watched a special feature recently on some comic book themed dvd (one of those animated Avengers features, perhaps) where Mark Millar offered up this reasoning as why he enjoyed the Avengers as a child. He was kid who didn’t have a lot of cash, so team books helped him get his fix. Team books could provide an opportunity to get your, say, Wolverine fix for the month without buying the two monthly Wolverine comics. Plus, you get to read far more interesting characters than the largely one-dimensional Wolverine in a team book. See? That’s got to be a positive for you.

Discounts Rock

This doesn’t just come down to me being cheap. It’s just practicality. Most shops do offer some type of discount for customers with established pull lists. Seeking out these shops can help soften the blow when they ring up all eighty-five monthly X-books you buy. Most online vendors also offer discounts. Some obviously offer better discounts than others, but I’ve found that online shops offer better discounts than actual local comic shops.

There is a hippie-dippy downside to shopping online as opposed to going to a local comic shop. By going to your local comic shop, you are helping out the local economy. Those shop owners are operating in the same sluggish economy you are. Times are tough everywhere and it comes down to the ethics of the customer as to whether or not they would rather save a nickel or support a local shop. Me? My local shop caters to the CCG crowd more than comic books fans. I don’t feel so bad about going online. However, you might have wonderful shops in your area that need and depend on your business.

Comic Fans Need a Bailout
Ultimately, as I talked about a few weeks ago in my Declaration of Independence from Event Comics, I think comic book publishers will start to slow on these admittedly splurge titles. I think we will begin to see a decrease in these events over the next year as the economy tries to balance itself out. The ability to buy tons of books with millions of tie-in issues is diminished now for most fans. Companies will naturally become more conservative with their titles, slinging less towards the wall to see what sticks.

This could be good in theory. With the fanbase less likely to overindulge in their purchasing, publishers may be forced to think in more qualitative terms rather than quantitative. We could see an increase in the quality of some products. And for our hard earned and well spent dollar, they better be good! If most fans are like me, fans have to carefully invest their hobby money now.

Let’s hope we all make it through this. Except for Jack of Fables. He can go.
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BG Roundtable: Trading Up

by Chris

Welcome to the second installment of Trading Up, where the expert dorks at the Bad Genious tell you what comic series are good enough to be put into trade paperback, but that publishers, in their ignorance, haven't gotten around to. We've changed the format a bit this time around to a more discussion oriented approach. Read on and be enlightened!

Let's start off with my recommendation this time around:

Chris: I'm actually going to combine two series for my entry this month since they're tied pretty closely together. I am recommending All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc.. With the popularity of Geoff Johns' JSA and Justice Society of America series these days, this would be the perfect time to trade both of these series. Johns' books, while new reader friendly, are, at the same time, very continuity heavy. They reference things that happened in both of these books, or I assume they do anyway...I've never read a single issue of either one. All-Star Squadron tells the stories of the JSA while Infinity, Inc. tells of the adventures of the JSA members' children. Many of the characters in these books are in the Justice Society today. Knowing the history of these characters would give me a much greater appreciation for the stories that Johns is telling.

I also have an ulterior motive for wanting reprints of Infinity, Inc.: I am a huge Todd McFarlane fan and he drew about 20 issues of that title early on in his career.

After Crisis on Infinite Earths, All-Star Squadron was canceled and replaced with Young All Stars, so I'd probably be interested in trades of this as well.

Doug: Actually, All Star Squadron is more than just the Golden Age Justice Society...it's pretty much EVERY Golden Age DC hero. The JSA members pretty quickly take a backseat to more obscure characters like Johnny Quick, Liberty Belle, and Robotman. Characters like the Freedom Fighters also show up briefly. But that actually makes it an even better idea for the trade treatment, since so many of those characters did start to show up in modern DC books post-ASS. You had Johnny Quick in Flash, the Freedom Fighters have been rebooted and had a couple of recent minis, and of course Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick have a daughter in the current Justice Society. The Shining Knight was also an ASS member and he was given the Grant Morrison treatment in 7 Soldiers.

Young All-Stars isn't nearly as essential...I think the only character from that book who shows up now is Iron Monroe, who is in Manhunter these days.

Chris: I'd never even heard of it before, but I came across it reading the Wikipedia page on ASS and figured I'd mention it since Roy Thomas wrote it and it was essentially a continuation.

Tyler: I have to admit I'd have a passing interest in Infinity Inc., since I had a friend growing up who collected it. I'd never read his issues, because they didn't have an "X" on the cover, but he maintained they were really good.

Then Devin popped in and gave us his $0.02.

Devin: Hitman needs to be finished. I think they only got about half of the series collected in trade and that was a while ago. It's a solid series, back from Ennis' glory days (i.e., when Preacher was coming out) and was about a superpowered (though he, like most of Ennis' super powered characters, rarely used them) hitman working in Gotham City. Some really great characters, hilarious plays on DC superheroes, and also quite possibly one of the top ten Superman stories. Where's the love for Tommy Monaghan (no, not the Dominos Guy)?

Doug: And Nat the Hat! And Baytor!

Chris: I'm not a huge Ennis fan. I loved his Punisher run, but his other stuff seems so over the top (I have pretty much zero interest in Preacher). Hitman, however, intrigues me.

Doug: Well, Hitman was a DC Universe book, so it does have to stay within the limits of good taste for that line of books. Which it does. Even if just barely.

Matt: I am not a huge fan of Ennis, but I would buy Hitman.

Doug: Hitman really is a great book. Sure, some of it is over-the-top, but a lot of it is really heartfelt and excellent.

Matt, our resident Alan Davis whore, proceeded to shock us by recommending a series that Davis didn't draw!

Matt: A series that I would love to see collected is the first volume of the Marvel UK Knights of the Pendragon series.

Marvel's description of the series: Since the days of King Arthur, and possibly earlier, the mystical Green Knight has granted Pendragon spirit-power to certain individuals in times of great need. In recent times, the Pendragon of Sir Gawain possessed policeman Dai Thomas. Dai, Captain Britain (Brian Braddock) and journalist Kate McClellan encountered the Green Knight, who was weakening due to mankind's environmental abuse. Dai sacrificed his power to bolster the Knight's failing strength. Shortly after, a Pendragon possessed Kate McClellan's son Cam, who fell into the clutches of the Bane, the Pendragons' arch foes led by Grace. Cam's teacher, Peter Hunter, formerly the Merlin Pendragon-powered hero Albion, gathered several Pendragons to fight the Bane: Union Jack (Lancelot), Kate McClellan (Guinevere), and author Ben Gallagher (Percival). Aided by Captain Britain, Iron Man (Tony Stark), and the Green Knight, the Pendragons prevented an attempted resurrection of Bane demi-god, the Red Lord (Bodb Derg), saved the Spanish town of Joselito from toxic devastation, and seemingly defeated Grace. Peter took the spirit from Cam, regaining his former powers.

The Knights of Pendragon set up a base of operations at Camelaird farm in Wiltshire with assistance from Tony Stark. Union Jack, Kate, and Ben fought Bane ivory poachers in Wakanda with help from the Black Panther, Mister Fantastic, and the Invisible Woman. The Bane conspired to separate the team, and picked the Pendragons off one by one. With Ben and Union Jack dead, and the Black Panther hospitalized, Albion was then executed as part of a ceremony to resurrect the Red Lord. Adam Crown (King Arthur) sensed their deaths and traveled to Avalon. The Green Knight resurrected all the dead Pendragons, as Adam summoned every Pendragon past or present, including the Black Panther, Captain Britain, Dai Thomas, and Iron Man, in order to fight the Bane's army. Adam drove the Bane spirit out of Grace, forcing the enemy to withdraw. Ben Gallagher died in combat, prompting Kate to leave the team and finish Ben's book.

This series was written by Dan Abnett and John Tomlinson with early art by Gary Erskine. Erskine's art is rough in some places but the writing is sharp throughout. There have been many King Arthur-type stories in comics but this one is tops.

Chris: This series, in fact, is on my list of stuff I'd like to see traded. I love fantasy and I love superheroes. This sounds like a perfect combination. Of course, since you picked it, Matt, I was expecting to see that Alan Davis had handled some of the art chores!

Matt: Most of Alan's stuff has been traded. He did do some of the covers however!

Once Matt had saved his reputation in the eyes of the BG, Patrick stopped by

Patrick: One run I would like to see is some more of Busiek's run on Thunderbolts. There has only been a collection of the first 6 issues or so. This was a good run, that would read good in trade. So why haven't they done it?

Matt: I agree. I would pick up those Thunderbolts trades.

Chris: There was such a smooth transition from Busiek to Nicieza on the first run that those should be collected as well. Plus, the series had some great artwork by Mark Bagley and Patrick Zircher (who is highly underrated).

Mr. O: That's a great series, and really does need trading. I think there are two Busiek trades out there, Justice like Lightning and then one other.

Patrick: I think the other trade is just the first 3 issues, which are also in Justice Like Lightning.

Mr. O: Ah ok, so not worth tracking down then.

We were then graced with the sage wisdom of Old Man Doug...

Doug: I'd like to see an Essential Inhumans trade paperback. With the Inhumans having such a high profile in the Marvel events of the past few years, it seems like a great time to catch people up on their Silver Age adventures, all of which could be collected in one Essential volume. You could include their key early appearances from Fantastic Four, their nine issues of Amazing Adventures, and the 12-issue Inhumans series from the mid-1970s. Maybe even include the pair of one-shots they had in the early '90s (pre-Marvel Knights Jenkins/Lee).

Chris: Personally, I don't have much interest in the Inhumans and I really don't like the Essential format (they were drawn with being colored in mind and, dammit, I want to see it colored!). However, I'm sure there are a number of fans out there that would snatch this up in a heartbeat.

The it was time to hear from our British contingent:

Yassir: Shade, the Changing Man really deserves to be traded. It was such a wacky, surreal series that also spoke about America. I think it would read great in trades as there were things set up early on that had a pay off much later.

Doug: Plus, the original artist on the book was Chris Bachalo, who has a pretty high profile now.

Yassir: Yup, although his art then is miles apart from how it is now.

Chris: There's one trade out already, The American Scream, that collects the first six issues, but yeah, this is another series I'd love to read.

Last, but not least, the other half of our British pair:

Mr. O: Deathlok, which was part of the Marvel Tech line that lasted less than a year, was a stand out book, with gritty art by Leonardo Manco and a great writing by Joe Casey. This was while Joe was still on the rise, and hadn't quite made the "A" list. He was an up and coming writer, writing with passion and mixing classic storytelling with new and interesting ideas.

The series only lasted 11 issues, but all where brilliant, well crafted, and beautifully drawn. It was the stand out book in this awful line. The story was grounded in the family of a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who worked on the Deathlok project and his son who's body was telepathically possessed by the Deathlok cyborg "essence". I don't really remember the whole story and for this reason alone I'd love there to be a trade of this series out there.

He isn't the greatest character out there, he doesn't have a huge following, but books like this, little gems in the rough, always need to be brought to greater attention and more people should experience a job well done. Even Kurt Busiek at the time said he loved it, and couldn't wait to get the next issue, as it was such a well crafted tale.

Chris: Yup, I remember reading this when it came out and thinking it was intelligently written with gorgeous artwork. It was head and shoulders above the rest of the M Tech line. As I still have the singles, I might not buy the trade, but I'd recommend it highly to others.

Doug: Have they ever collected the original Deathlok stories from the 1970's? As many times as they've tried the revive the concept, you would think they'd reprint those stories.

Mr. O: I think there was a Deathlok Essential, at some point, but I'm not sure. This Casey run was really my introduction to the character.

After some investigation, Mr. O came back: Nope I must have been imagining it.

Well, that takes care of this installment of Trading Up. Check us out next time when we tell publishers what they should be putting into trade!
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