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SUPERMAN 14 – SALVATION FOUND IN H’EL

SUPERMAN 14 COVERSUPERMAN 14

Writer: Scott Lobdell
Artist: Kenneth Rocafort
Publisher: DC
Reviewer: Rob Patey ( aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)

“You take the old, you take the new, you take them both and you have the glue for Supes’ facts of life, facts of life.”

No, it’s not just my lingering boyhood crush for Lisa Welchel that made this old Alan Thicke ditty pop into my head. After a year of utter confusion for the Man of Steel I think RocLobster has finally been able to find the secret sauce to make SUPERMAN work in the context of the NEW 52. H’EL on earth is not only a great read from a solitary story perspective, but it’s the first true signs of cohesion amongst all DC titles allowing for some true honest-to-God universe building.

I applaud Perez’s and Morrison’s early efforts on both ACTION and SUPERMAN, but they were working under some crazy editorial mandates for Big Blue. I “think” the plan was to have ACTION be the introduction to “Superman” the character, where SUPERMAN the title was supposed to establish the world of Metropolis and all of Clark’s pals. But the “five years before” mandate and no consistent voice for SUPERMAN in any title made for decent solitary issues, but a messershit of confusion for Supes’ place in the DC Universe. I’m not even going to bring JUSTICE LEAGUE into this conversation because that was a whole other grab-bag of Super doldrums for Clark (me blue, me punch, me sulk).

Here’s the thing though, SUPERMAN’S world isn’t that interesting without SUPERMAN. Learning that media outlets are dying and Lois Lane will prostitute her integrity to the first media mogul that comes along will only carry a comic so far. I don’t care about Lois, Jimmy or Perry without Clark, no matter how many Lois-Nazis write me about the importance of Lois Lane in the DC Universe (yes, they exist by thousands, I would be happy to share the hate mail from my SUPERMAN EARTH ONE review).

Now, I was able to follow these stories and confusions because I’m older than Moses’ balls. At 38 I have lived through several iterations of SUPERMAN and read thousands of books that let my feeble mind easily fill in gaping chasms of logic and feeling. New readers had my deepest sympathy and anyone who asked me over the past year, “what book should little Johnny or Sally read if they like SUPERMAN?” immediately received my endorsement for ACTION, and ironically not SUPERMAN. Not because Morrison is a great child writer, but because that was closest to the essence of Supes.

H’EL on earth finally ends the confusion. With this first Super Crossover, RocLobster and the others have been able to bring clarity by not abandoning the past year, but consolidating it quickly and concisely. Yes, Lois is still an integrity whore to the whims of Morgan Edge, but there aren’t entire issues focused to the decline of print media and sacrificing real news for infotainment. Clark recently quit the Daily Planet because of this moral conundrum and all you need to know about this is plain as day in the opening panels of SUPERMAN 14. Lois is trying to bring Clark back into the media fold until their visit is interrupted by the appearance of Supes’ cousin Kara-El. Now, I will say that Clark’s former red-panties getting into a bunch about Lois shacking up with her boy-toy seems out of place since he has shown no romantic interest in Lois up until now (NEW 52 not old continuity), but I’ll let it slide, again because I know this will be an inevitable pairing…perhaps. Also since he’s smooshing face with WONDER WOMAN now, which is wonderfully alluded to in this interchange, I have to wonder why he truly does care. But the super heart wants what it wants I guess. I’ll also say the moment when Kara entered left me conflicted. On one hand it was hilarious. On the other hand, I think Lois has lost her nose for news immediately assuming the woman standing before her is a Cosplayer instead of the exact replica of the chick who’s been tossing tanks on the news. Considering this a fan-boy nit though, and a bygone since it was executed so damn well.

I had an issue with the heavy BOX OUT bubbles in SUPERMAN 13. What has worked so well in RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS felt like lazy exposition to me in the context of SUPERMAN. That’s corrected as well this issue, with only a few scant thought bubbles to draw new readers into the crossover.

The rest of the issue plays out as a knockdown drag-out between this new third Kryptonian, H’EL, and Supes. Kara sits on the fence, still not loving Earth, but certainly not feeling the disdain H’EL does. In very Zod like fashion, H’El, a former disciple of Jor-El and one of Krypton’s first astronauts (that’s how he got to Earth), thinks anyone from Krypton should be in charge of Earth and also has a real disdain for the hybrid clone SUPERBOY. It was actually kind of fun to see SUPERBOY tossed around like a Ritalin baby’s Stretch Armstrong. Apparently, like in the Star Wars universe, Clones only spell bad news and caused a lot of trouble in Krypton’s distant past.

The family dynamic between Kal and Kara is all New 52 while still holding on to ghosts of the past. It’s refreshing to see this commitment to what worked before and not abandoning it. Kara has to grapple with her younger cousin now being older and not remembering Krypton. While Kal must try to babysit a superbrat to ensure she doesn’t cause bad PR for Kryptonians everywhere.

No idea where this series is going to end up and frankly I don’t care. For one reason, I really like surprises. The other reason being I already have Tweeted confirmation from Scott Snyder that his run starting in January will take the series in a new direction. I will also give leeway to any book Rocafort draws. His abandonment for traditional panels and flair for cinematic moments are bar none. He makes the books move even if you don’t read one word bubble.

H’EL on Earth is exactly what the doctor ordered to redeem the Man of Steel, bind the DC universe together, and whet appetites for the when the new DC Golden Boy takes the reigns next month.

HARBINGER 6 Review – Valiant Makes Muties Really Real

HARBINGER 6 COVER & REVIEWHARBINGER 6

Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Phil Briones
Publisher: Valiant
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)

I consider it my personal mission to herald the virtues of great comics to the masses. While I like to spread this love across the entire industry, lately I can’t keep my eyes off Valiant. Their realistic, no bull-shit approach to the fantastical is almost impossible to emulate while wearing spandex and capes. Hey, I understand gritty realism isn’t for everybody; and even I with all my dark cynicism need my escapist dose of poses and dialog bubbles that are decrees instead of conversations, but Valiant cracks a nut that no “Reboot” or “ReNow” will ever be available to achieve simply by virtue of who they are.

I was all set to extol the virtues of X-O MANOWAR this week, and while this ancient Norseman in futuristic battle armor is a great read, X-O is mid-story right now. HARBINGER, the Valiant answer to the X-MEN starts a new arc this issue and with it Dysart reveals yet another layer to a book that was already several stratums deep. Basically, if you’re a fan of old Valiant you’re a fucking idiot for not imbibing Valiant 2.0. If you are too young to remember old Valiant or still don’t know a Shadowman from Dayman, I hope the following will entreat you to learn more.

HARBINGER is the new term for the age old problem of muties, mutates, freaks, basically the next generation of humanity that can control the world instead of being hapless victims to circumstance like all of us poor old Homo Sapiens. What’s different with HARBINGER is that it takes a pragmatic approach to this problem as the real world dictates, avoiding the exercise of making the real world transform to fit the narrative.

The bad guy in HARBINGER, Toyo Harada, was the first of this next gen. An early baby-boomer caught near grand zero when America ended WWII in a flash of light. He is also one of the most powerful of this next generation; he can manipulate minds on a global scale, transform reality, and activate anyone who is latently carrying the HARBINGER gene. All of these issues have been explored before in comics, but never with this stark level of realism. Instead of donning a cape and hat, getting five mutants together, and then destroying some high-profile target, Harada realized that power simply was not enough. In this complex age, he who has the money writes the rules. One can use far less power to control much more if they have a solid infrastructure in place before begin their power play. To that end Harada spends the better part of the 20th century using his power to build a global conglomerate before moving into his end-game of check mate.

The flip-side of Harada is Pete Stancheck, a young man on the same power scale as Harada with a millionth of the ambition. In fact, Stancheck is more afraid of his abilities than ready to embrace them. Rightly so, as a member of the “better parenting through pills” generation, Pete grew up believing that it wasn’t the blessing of power he carried, but rather the curse of insanity. Once Harada took notice of Peter in the early issues of HARBINGER, we begin to see the man Peter might become, but the journey will be long. As a member of Harada’s HARBINGER Foundation, Pete quickly realizes Harada’s power play and makes a hasty exit for freedom. Peter was greatly helped in this decision when he uncovered last issue that his insane friend, Joe, who Harada swore to protect, was merely a pawn in keeping Pete under control.

That’s things in a nutshell; all good stuff…but what makes it truly great? This is where we get into the infinite layers that clearly show Dysart has a clear plan instead of just throwing random superhero tropes onto the page.

Harada is more than a man of power; he is the embodiment of the at death’s doorstep Baby-Boomer generation.  A generation that was able to ride the spoils their parents fought so hard for and lived a life of relative ease as a result. Alan Greenspan said thirty years ago that the next generation will not do as well as the Baby-Boomers. We all laughed at the time, but as the current state of the economy shows, where raises are a gift instead of an expectation, the legacy of the boomers could very well be a bust. Yes, this is part of the “stuff” of HARBINGER (not the Greenspan thing, that’s my value-add), Harada can slow the decay of time, but not stop it. And he is damned and determined to leave his final mark on the world.

A generation ago, when Gen X was far from middle-age, the kids who we are learning will be the renegade HARBINGERS (off Harada’s reservation), came together in a very different way by virtue of the time period. Twenty years ago life was much simpler, a tradesman could practice their craft and thrive, there was a freedom and prosperity when my generation was leaving High School and College that simply isn’t real anymore. Back then the HARBINGERS came together through happenstance as they all were searching for the adults they would one day become. The powers basically were secondary…at first In today’s world of heavy processes, and need for predictive ROI, very few young people hit the road searching for themselves.

We can also attribute this lack of generational courage to helicopter parenting that does nothing to prepare kids for tomorrow and keeps them in Mom and Dad’s basement until their first prostate exam. Fellow renegade HARBINGER, the fabulously floating Zephyr is a prime example of this new molly coddling. She’s fat, she knows she’s fat, yet she embodies her Christian name of Faith at every turn. Twenty years ago, Faith was a big fat mess mentally, even though she tried to keep a firm upper lip. Now, she’s part of the home schooled generation that as soon as the going got tough the less than tough turned to Mom to become their HS principal. Now Dysart doesn’t specifically state Faith is home schooled, but by her Golden Retriever levels of trust in humanity, it’s clear she was sheltered versus Mooed at in the hallways of public High School. Don’t get me wrong I love Zephyr, a character that simply floats instead of flies are the deconstructions comic fans live for.

Finally rounding out the new renegade HARBINGERS is Kris, the young lady who Pete has imprinted on as his life mate. With Kris you see the starkest differences between Valiant 1.0 & 2.0.  A generation ago these two were truly in love and Kris came with Pete willingly on his adventure of overthrowing Harada. In the 2.0 world, Kris and Pete only dated a few times, he thought more of it then she did, and in the first few issues he mind rapes her into loving him. Powerful stuff. Even more powerful was when he let her go, when he though the HARBINGER foundation was serving the greater good. Even powerfuller is the full circle this issue takes to bring Kris back into Pete’s arms and her altruism in taking on the babysitting of a living God.

I could continue to ferret out the details of HARBINGER; discussing in depth how each conversation has emotional resonance, how Briones’ art perfectly captures the moody scenes as well as the action with equal aplomb, but… wouldn’t you rather just read the book? Please say yes, my fingers are tired and I really want to get back to reading more Valiant books.

THE STEREOTYPICAL FREAKS – An Anything But Stereotypical Comic

stereotypical freaks coverTHE STEREOTYPICAL FREAKS

Writer: Howard Shapiro
Artist: Joe Pekar
Publisher: Animal Media Group
Reviewer: Rob Patey (A.K.A. Optimous Douche, Ain’t It Cool News)

THE STEREOTYPICAL FREAKS is ironically anything but a stereotypical comic and the four protagonists are anything but freaks. However, as we mature within the meat grinder that is the public High School education system, at one time even the most glorious and grand of us are made to feel like a freak. Being ostracized is part of the American maturation process, but so is the inevitable finding of self and then eventually kindred souls. Howard Shapiro has deftly put this maturation process on paper in the STEREOTYPICAL FREAKS without it ever feeling forced or rushing the point.

Music is at the theme for this tale of four High School students coming together to WOW the world in a  Battle of the Bands contest, but the soul of the book lies firmly embedded in the seemingly unnatural rapid maturation that we’re all forced into during our Senior year of High School.  Tom, Dan, Jacobey and Mark are all about to make their way into the world and what struck me most about the introduction to these four students, was that despite their differences, Shapiro didn’t need to go blue with any of their personalities. Yes one is a brain, one is a jock, one a bit lazy, and the other a bit weird, but not one of them is a bad kid. Nowhere are we faced with the trite attributes found in most youth culture fiction. No teen pregnancy, no drug abuse, none of the sensationalism that permeates media headlines. Were we to rely on the media, we would think all youth is damned and so is society. That’s simply not the case. As college admissions continue to skyrocket each year I think the STEREOTYPICAL FREAKS are more common than the little shits CNN uses to grab headlines.

And don’t think being good equates to vanilla. It’s that kind of thinking that perpetuates reality TV and makes little fuck bags like Honey Boo Boo and her “clan of the damned” TV sensations. Tom our lead protagonist pines for the girl of his dreams while trying to keep his 4.0 grade point average up. His doughy friend Dan simply wants to establish a relationship with is distant father. Mark, a former friend of Tom’s until Junior High stratified the jocks from the brains is doing his damndest to get a Football scholarship to college. And finally Jacobey is a new foreign exchange student who is simply trying to find a friend.

While music brings the boys together, the book is much more than the harmony they find to win the battle of the bands. Like music, the song of life has many different parts.  It requires those with a steady tempo, those who with a chaotic melody to share and finally those who sadly deliver the sweet, trialing, away finale to the song. Shapiro misses none of these essential beats.

The art is indie fair. That’s not a bad thing, but don’t come into FREAKS looking for big splash pages or hyper-detailed work. WALKING DEAD has proved B&W is alive and well, but the lack of inking in FREAKS did leave the art feeling flatter than the shuffling undead. Again, I get it. In the indie game, especially with a book as long as FREAKS, sacrifices must be made so the book can be done in a somewhat timely manner. Artist Pekar does a serviceable job with the straight pencil work, but even here I saw some definite areas were fine tuning could help him grow, interactions with environments and between characters is harsh. The world doesn’t mesh together – it’s a meeting of lines instead of a melding. The panel flow is spot on and tells a cohesive narrative, but sadly it’s uninteresting. I saw some definite areas where a slight shift of point of view in a scene would have helped the talking head scenes move much faster.

I enjoyed this tale of ordinary kids faced with the beginning, and in one instance the end of life, mainly because it wasn’t afraid to be real. This is a deeply personal work, from the Arena and Prog rock suggestions to accompany each chapter, to the voluminous dedication roster at the beginning of the book Shapiro gave his all to this tale. At the end of the day, even if a book has flaws, true dedication and heart will prevail.

Phonographics Radio – Darth Disney, Hurricane Sandy, and Blackacution

Phonographics Party 93.4

Phonographics Party 93.4

A big thank you to the cats of Phonographics and Party 93.4 for letting me spew comics and geek culture once again.

The November 3rd show was devoted to the joyous announcement that Mickey Mouse will keep George Lucas from ever making another Star Wars film, how much we hate George Lucas for destroying our childhood with the prequels, and why the hell do all black superheroes need to have fucking electrical powers. Thanks for keeping the stereotype alive Jamie Foxx and Spiderman.

Phono_Graphics_November_3_2012 Listen Now

ARCHER & ARMSTRONG 3 REVIEW – Everything Old is AWESOME Again

Archer and Armstrong 3ARCHER & ARMSTRONG #3
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Clayton Henry
Publisher: Valiant
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche Ain’t It Cool News)

Secret sects, a mystery as old as human history, and a fat indestructible drunkard with his young Christian-compound raised martial arts expert at his side. How could I not love ARCHER & ARMSTRONG?

Well, I’ll tell you how: if I let myself get hung by the noose of nostalgia like sooooo many of my contemporaries. The benefit of being an aged fangeezer is that we’ve read almost every comic on the shelf.  The downside to being an aged fangeezer is that we’ve read every book the shelf. Valiant books especially hold a sweet spot in my heart that harkens me back to the early days of the 1990s when all I had to do with my time was read comics and be a teenager. I relished every moment of Valiant 1.0; I loved, collected, and reread every title year after year right up until the turn of the millennium. They were my solace during the mid to late 90s comic apocalypse.

So I approached the re-launch of the Valiant universe with the greatest of trepidation. My nostalgia has been thoroughly raped in recent years by comics from CRISIS to AGE OF APOCALYPSE, the new has never been as sweet as the old.

Valiant deepened my worries since fundamental characters from the old universe have now had their copyrights spread to the four corners of comicdom: SOLAR, TUROK and MAGNUS were not only popular characters, they were fundamental to the birth of the universe and one of the best cross-overs ever, UNITY.

Well, now that we are a good five months into VALIANT 2.0 I can say without reservation life is about change, and change is exceptionally good – especially when change is being led by some of the newest and freshest voices in comics.

ARCHER & ARMSTRONG is different than before, but every change is steeped in deep reverence for the old series. This time Archer started working for his parents, a couple of one-percenters looking to take over the world using faith as their weapon of choice. Archer also no longer becomes disillusioned by his parent’s before running into Armstrong, this time around killing Armstrong is what sets Archer on his mission of discovery and ultimate disillusionment in his parents’ Machiavellian ways. Another welcome addition this time around is that all of Archer’s martial arts moves are explained in handy and informative call-out boxes. Read ARCHER & ARMSTRONG because it’s entertaining AND educational.

ARMSTRONG is pretty much the same, a drunken lout who has spent eternity…well just trying to get drunker and loutier.

When the two came together back in the 90s, it was a meeting without purpose until they run into “The Sect” trying to kill ARMSTRONG. This time the book is founded on much sturdier ground. Before ARMSTRONG was immortal a device called “The Boon” wiped out the old world (think mythological) and humanity started anew. Only ARMSTRONG was left from the devastation and he spent the next several thousand years hiding pieces of “The Boon” and then summarily killing the brain cells that remembered where the pieces were hidden.

Sounds like a lot to absorb? Well it is, this book is chock full of every conspiracy theory and piece of ancient lore since the beginning of time.

Van Lente does a great job getting new readers up to speed in the opening pages of the third issue, which takes our Odd Couple into the bowels of the Vatican where a piece of “The Boon” is guarded by a sect of Nuns that eventually get dubbed with the LOL name Nunjas in the heat of battle.

Also joining the pair is a wise nun who 100 years ago (not literally – though close) captured Armstrong’s heart. She acts as a mediator between Armstrong’s debauchery and Archer’s piousness, reminding both why they need one another. At one point she whispers a line to Archer about faith that was the wisest words I read in comics this week and probably all year.

I’m not blinded by affection for what was, ARCHER & ARMSTRONG and the rebooted  HARBINGER are some of the best comics on the shelves right now. They have reinvented the voice of Valiant for the new millennium, without once forgetting the deep and different characterization that made a name for Valiant oh so many years ago.