Why I Like Joss Whedon

Before I had even heard Whedon's name, I was cruising through the paper when I ran across a Buffy The Vampire Slayer entry which didn't have the shading that meant "movie"

"A series?" I thought. "The movie was a lot of fun but how are they going to sustain a whole series?"

I checked it out. It was the episode with the hyenas and I was hooked. It was funny, creepy and smart. I also assumed it was doomed because "funny" and "smart" are usually death sentences for a TV show (see Greg The Bunny). I watched Buffy every week and at the end of many episodes I would reply to the "next week on" teaser with the statement, "Well, this is it. The show has jumped the shark." But I would tune in the following week to see that Joss had managed to take an idea that was stupid on its face and make it work.

This is because Joss Whedon has seen all of the same TV shows and movies that we have and he has been annoyed by the clichés and cookie-cutter plots as much as we have. The good news is that he's a good enough writer to do something about it.

Which brings me to Firefly which I like much more than Buffy and cosmically more than Angel.

The first episode of Firefly I saw was The Train Job. Mal, is facing down a thug who works for a crime boss that the main characters have just angered. Mal offers him a deal and the thug responds with the usual, "We will hunt you down. We will dog your steps. Everywhere you go we'll be one step behind" stuff. Mal nods and kicks the guy into the starship engine. The other thugs are much more agreeable after seeing that.

Talk. About. Hooked.

The main character on a TV show just did something that my brain had been screaming for other TV characters to do. He did something ruthless and smart. I'm not saying I want more death on TV. What I'm saying is I want fewer discussions of the "why didn't he just shoot the guy" variety to be necessary. I want clearly-defined characters with internal consistency. Kicking that guy into the engine told me that this show was different. This show was for me. It also, correctly this time, told me that this show was doomed.

Serenity comes out on my birthday. Even if there are no more Firefly-related movies or shows, I'll get to see some of my favorite characters on the big screen.

And Joss will keep writing stuff.

And maybe I will, too.

Composite Superman!

I was in my FLCS this morning and I saw the Composite Superman action figure from DC Direct. This thing is nice.

I would go on about the history of Composite Superman but others have already done a far more thorough job than I could. This post from The Absorbascon contains many, many links including this article from Nightwing's Superman page which has scans of Composite Superman's two appearances.

WARNING: These issues are sterling examples of Silver Age storytelling. They are from the era when Jimmy Olsen had his own title in which he was turned into some kind of freakmonster who menaced Superman every month. Proceed with caution.

There are those who believe that Composite Superman was the most awesome villain that Superman or Batman ever fought. He was certainly the most powerful; he had all of the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Unfortunately, he was petty and reckless. I prefer villains who have some cleverness and an ability to see the big picture going for them. The better written versions of Lex Luthor and Ra's Al Ghul, for example.

However, Compy's lack of cleverness does not take away from the fact that he beat Superman and Batman working together. That ain't easy, folks. Ultimately, the stories are about the use of power for the greater good and what happens to schmucks who abuse their abilities.

Oh, and he's green because he's got Brainiac 5's intelligence.


War is heck

Eventually there comes a time when keeping silent is no longer possible. When people are fighting far away, fighting for their lives as well as for something much, much bigger, you just have to choose sides.

There are no neutrals in this conflict.

This will change the face of the DC Universe forever!


Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Thanks to Dial B For Blog for the excellent War Banner.

Ultimates 2 #6

This issue is good for what it is and I'll actually review it on those terms later. However, I have to gripe for a bit about how disappointed I was that Millar didn't do something cool with the Defenders. I mean, this is the Ultimate universe. These are the freakin' Defenders.

I know the regular-continuity Defenders had more than their share of goofy moments (Cloud, anyone?) but they have always been one of my favorite teams. Mostly because they were a non-team. They didn't like each other very much but they came together when Big Bad Things were happening. I also liked them because they were the weirdest collection of heroes possible. It's like the Marvel editors drew a bunch of names out of a hat and turned the comic into some extended writing exercise.

The heroes who make up the Ultimate Defenders are also a weird bunch. Their introduction makes it look like they're gonna have really kewl powerz and interesting personalities. Instead we get a bunch of losers who are miserable failures at actually being superheroes. It's a funny concept but Great Lakes Avengers is doing it better.

Millar did the same ball-dropping maneuver when he introduced Captains Italy and Spain in issue #4. I thought "Neat! I wonder what these guys can do." I never found out. We might see the other captains later in the series but I really like to get some hint of what new characters can do before the end of their intro issue. Failing that, I'd like to see it eventually. Gradual information release can be done well. Young Avengers is doing a good job of slowly revealing things about the main characters. I end each issue of that title interested in what's going to happen next. I keep ending issues of Ultimates 2 frustrated. Even the cliffhanger and the near revelation of one of the series' big secrets at the end of #6 didn't pique my interest as it should have.

OK, I griped a lot. Ahem.

As I said above, this issue, unlike its immediate predecessor, accomplishes what it sets out to do. It manages to tell a little more of Henry Pym's story and it tells the tale of the aforementioned losers in a funny way. There are a few well-done nods to the original continuity and a Scarlet Witch joke I'm still laughing about.

The art is excellent and the cover is my favorite one on any comic so far this year. I doubt I'll pick up #7 but that's what I said about #6. Ultimates 2 keeps not sucking just enough to keep me coming back.


Young Avengers. Er, what he said.

I was going to post a bunch of stuff about how cool I think Young Avengers is but Chad from Comics Should Be Good already said a lot of what I was going to in this post.

From the looks of the cover from issue #6 I'm going to have a lot to post about when that comes out:


Ultimates 2 #5

Here's another one recycled from my LiveJournal. It's slightly out of date but I'm moving it here because it mentions an upcoming issue of Ultimates 2 that I'll review when it comes out.

I didn't like Ultimates 2 #5 very much.

A while back I talked about Ultimates 2 #4 and how I liked it. #4 set up a big conflict between the Ultimates and Thor. Mark Millar wastes no opportunity to mention that Thor is the most powerful superhero on Earth and issue #4 ends with Captain America (sorry, Ultimate Captain America) pointing at Ultimate Thor and telling him he's going down.

"Ooh," I thought. "This is gonna be a good fight."

I thought this because Millar has written some good fight scenes in the past and Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary worked on The Authority which was pretty much one big fight scene and they did it really well. #5 disappointed me because the story was just OK (yes, I still want a good story with my big fights, sue me) and the art was confusing.

Some artists don't do action well. Hitch and Neary have shown that they are very good at action. However, I couldn't figure out what was going on in several of the panels. Clarity is important when you're drawing a fight scene. There's not much dialogue so the reader needs to see what's happening. When three-quarters (or more) of the issue consists of a fight scene, clarity is essential.

There was a good part at the end where it's still not clear whether Thor is THOR or if he's just some deranged guy with stolen supertech. That was handled very well.

I was all set to stop buying Ultimates 2 anymore but then I saw the cover of #6.


Cheesecake aside, this is the Defenders. The Ultimate Defenders! They have always been one of my favorite teams and I'm looking forward to what Millar does with them. So, I'll pick up #6. We'll see.

And, um, if the writing is substandard there's still the cheesecake.


Is there a Doctor in the House of Ideas?

In the Marvel Universe every hero or villain with the title "Doctor" has an actual Ph.D. These guys had to do dissertations. Do you think Spiderman was ever subject to peer review? No, he just got bitten by a spider, slapped on a costume and then paraded around NYC like he owned the place. Sure, Luke Cage graduated from the School of Hard Knocks but he never had to teach a freshman chemistry class.

Here are just a few of the people who got their advanced degrees the Mighty Marvel way!

Dr. Octopus: Nuclear Physics
Dr. Druid: Psychiatry
Dr. Strange: Medicine (neurosurgeon)
Dr. Sun: Biology/Computer Science
Dr. Spectrum: Astronaut. The university which granted Joe Ledger's doctorate is in an alternate dimension. Don't get me started on the red tape involved in getting a copy of a transcript from Earth-S. Let's say physics for now.
Doc Samson: Psychiatry
Doctor Demonicus: Genetics

And the big daddy of them all:

My favorite Victor Von Doom factoid is that he was Reed Richards' roommate.

That must have been a non-stop party.

"Doom commands you to be absent from the room this evening, Richards."

"What? Have you got a hot date?"

"That is none of your concern. Your inferior intellect could not possibly conceive of the--"

"Save the histrionics, Victor. I've gotta study and all my books are here."

"Curse you, Richards. You will rue the day you crossed Doom."

"Blah, blah, blah, you said the same thing when I drank the last of your weird, imported beer."

"Latveria has the best beer in the world and that stuff is expensive to ship!

So, Doom gets horribly disfigured and blames his roommate. Forever.

Richards gets back at him by being more humble than Doom. "Oh, no, 'Dr. Fantastic' seems so haughty. Just call me Mister Fantastic."

OK, so being more humble than Doom isn't that hard but Reed could have gone with the "Doctor" monicker. I suppose he went for the more marketable superhero name.

Unlike, say, Dr. Lemuel Dorcas:

It's not really a surprise that this guy's supervillain career never took off.


Frank Quitely

Some of you may have already read this in my LiveJournal. Consider it 'recycling'. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Did you hear that?

That was the sound of me revising my opinion of a comic book artist.

The samples of Frank Quitely’s work that I’ve seen from All-Star Superman look quite good. Especially this cover. There’s something about Superman’s face that bugs me but I can’t put my finger on just what yet. I think it’s the jaw-to-rest-of-face ratio but the rest of the cover is outstanding!

There, I said it. I like something Frank Quitely has drawn.

Part of my loathing of his work (not the man, mind, just his art) stems from the craptacular job he did on The Authority when he and Mark Millar took over for Ellis and Hitch. Now, Brian Hitch is a hard act to follow (especially when he’s teamed up with Paul Neary and Laura DePuy) but when Quitely began drawing the members of the Authority they went from attractive, cool-looking, human-shaped people to formorian nightmares with permanently-pursed lips who looked as if they had been hastily assembled out of mashed potatoes.

The first 12 issues of The Authority are some of my favorite comics ever. Hitch’s versions of the characters were, to me, the iconic representations. I don’t expect a new artist to mimic the person he or she is replacing but this was such a drastic change for the worse that I still shudder just thinking about it.

That was several years ago and Quitely has done what real artists do: He has worked on his craft and he has improved.

Woah, mama, has he improved! I wasn’t fond of his work on X-Men (the pursed lips thing again but less with the mashed potatoes) but looking at it more objectively I realize that it was a marked improvement over The Authority.

So, I have been judging an artist’s current work on the basis of some older work I didn’t like.

That was lame.

Annette Benning did a crappy job in The Grifters but she was amazing in American Beauty. Kim Bassinger went from Cool World to L.A. Confidential. Artists who pay attention and who keep working get better. Every now and then I need to be reminded of that.

UPDATE: Dorian and Chuck both assure me that WE3 is really good so I'm gonna check that out. I'll pick up the singles since it doesn't look like a trade is forthcoming.


Bring Da Novel; Bring Da Funny

I've noticed that all of my favorite writers have really good senses of humor. Only a few of them would be considered "humor writers" but all of them know when to inject humor for whatever effect they are going for. This applies to creators of any written work: comics, novels, roleplaying supplements, movie reviews, anything.

I have a theory about this. A good sense of humor comes from an ability to make connections in one's head that others might not see. The best stand-ups are the ones who are able to connect disparate concepts on the fly. A lot of the comics who make me laugh are the ones who come up with things I never would have thought of. Others specialize in the "it's funny 'cause it's true" style which points out elements which are in front of us all the time. Either way, it's all about the connections.

Good writing is about connections, too. It's not the only element that makes something good but it's an important one. For example, Spider Jerusalem, the main character in Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan discovers that the maker (a replicator-type device) in his apartment is addicted to drugs. A.I. drugs. This is pretty funny. It also shows the connections at work. Ellis first posits a future where most household appliances use artificial intelligences. Then he takes it a step further and determines that some of these AIs would become addicts. It's a commentary on the future society as well as a funny element of the setting.

Movie critics and reviewers make use of humor all the time. Tasha Robinson and the others at the Onion AV Club provide excellent examples of this. Sometimes making fun of a picture is the only way to get through it.

I've noticed that many of my favorite writers are funny in person even if they don't write funny stuff. Tim Powers is not known for his gut-busting laugh-a-thons but he has written some really good, often spooky novels. He also has a quick wit and tells funny stories at conventions.

I submit that a good sense of humor comes from a similar kind of intelligence that makes a good writer. This is a chicken/egg sort of thing: Do the connections lead to the humor or is it the other way around? Perhaps one informs and sharpens the other. There are, of course, many other things that one needs to be a good writer, this is just one that I see over and over.

This theory is by no means fully formed. It's just based on several observations I've made.

What do you think?

Green Lantern: Rebirth #6

This one went out with a whimper. The big showdown with Parrallax was dull. We already know what the differences between the various Lanterns are. It wasn't necessary to have Jordan's voice-over point them out because Ethan Van Sciver did a fine job of drawing them. I like Geoff Johns' writing but he sometimes falls back on the thing Claremont used to do: Show something in a panel and then write words over the panel which baldly state exactly what it is we're looking at.

A lot of comics writers don't seem comfortable enough with the visual medium in which they are writing to let the pictures do the talking. My favorites writers are able to do this. They know when to use words and they know when to trust the artist. Warren Ellis has this down. Even Brian Bendis, one of the most talky writers to hit comics since Kevin Smith, often has sections where the dialogue and the pictures are telling different stories simultaneously. That's a good thing. Johns hasn't written "Well, here we are back in JLA headquarters" yet but he's come close.

This issue has characters acting "out of character" for no reason other than Johns needs it to happen. What the hell is with everyone being out to take Batman down a peg, lately? I don't mean the other characters, I mean the writers. I'm not one of those "OMG Batman is unbeatable!!" types but, damn, why's everybody gotta punk on the caped crusader? That whole confrontation between the JLA and the Lanterns was useless. It didn't move the story along. In fact, it stalled it. There was no reason for them to show up in this issue.

There were good things about this issue. The art was great. I love Van Sciver's interpretations of the various Lantern's powers and he really handles the action well. The interactions between the Lanterns were good, especially Gardner and Stewart. Also, Jordan is written consistently for the most part and I come out of this series with a good sense of why he is worthy of one of the most powerful weapons in the universe.

Summary: This was a disappointing finale to a good series. I don't know if Johns didn't know how to end it or what but there just wasn't much there. I am a big fan of the Green Lantern Corps. I have always loved the legends surrounding them.Rebirth wasn't the best thing I've ever read but Johns did a good job of bringing Jordan back. Everything fits well as long as you accept that this is a comic and some things are just gonna be goofy. As long as the goofy is internally consistent I'll let it slide.

I'm going to get Green Lantern #1 (too bad Van Sciver's not drawing it) and I'll remain optimistic. Johns groks the old-school heroes and anything with green power rings in it gets extra points from me. We'll see.