Monday, September 24, 2012

Just Sayin'--Random Impulse Buying

In which we blather a bit about stuff I bought recently, because comic reviews would be a novelty at this point, wouldn't they?

 GAMBIT #1--Man, it's terrifying that Gambit's been around for twenty-plus years, isn't it? As with all X-Characters, this means he's accumulated a bewildering amount of ill-advised retcons and continuity wrinkes--everything from being an accessory to mass murder to being *snicker* Black Gambit, and like all X-characters, his function now appears to be a living reminder of the 90's being dreadful, which is funny since things are so good now, right?

 In any event, for this series, James Asmus dials everything back to the base concept--Gambit's a thief with superpowers, stealing stuff in a superhero universe. It's a simple enough storytelling idea, and if it looks familiar, it's pretty much the same engine that drove Catwoman for many a year.

 But it's the first time it's really been done with Gambit, who's generally been too mired in X-Continuity to be allowed to be in anything that basic or -gasp!- possibly possessing a voice of its own.

 But here we get that. By the second page, we've got a mission statement--he's not wearing the pink costume, the accent's not going to be so overdone, he's not going to be a schoolteacher (Huh. That's what he's doing now? Okay . . .)  and he's just stealing stuff. It's sleek, simplistic, easily graspable, and you don't have to know who the hell BellaDonna was, for which I am eternally grateful, because that means I can let that information go.

 I'm a sucker for good caper stories, wherein a heist is meticulously planned, there are complications, and the third act is eluding the resultant blowback. Asmus does a great job of setting that up and the book moves in a way that I was wondering if comics post-decompression really knew how to do.

 BUT, the big thing I wanted to commend Asmus for is on the top panel of the 5th page, which has a bunch of party chatter featuring people talking about collecting insurance when Iron Man crashed into their building, tourism in the Microverse, fair trade stuff from the Savage Land. It's a little bit of business and really only exists to set up some atmosphere, but it's a flourish I quite like, as it ads a layer of verisimilitude (NOT realism) to the book and grounds everything out in a very subtle way.

 I liked this more than I expected, given the lead character's decades of ropey story decisions.

 WORLD'S FINEST #2 & 4--In theory, I should like this a lot more than I do. I like Kevin Maguire, I like George Perez, and the idea of Power Girl and Huntress teaming up as refugees from Earth-2 and trying to make it on Earth-1, but. . .somehow, it's not coming together. I don't know if it's a pacing issue or what but it just isn't coming together some how.

 I don't get the impression that it's due to anyone giving less than their best. I'm just not sure it's gelling.

 EARTH-2 #4--Speaking of that . . .While in principle I like that the book is trying to find new ways to re-make the Justice Society in new versions . . .I'm not sure it works against the backdrop of Solomon Grundy as Nekron, standing around making rotten stuff grow and yelling about "the green champion." It's a threat trying to be BIG, but not quite getting there.

 On the plus side, there's some hints of interesting characters around that--Flash and Hawkgirl have some good chemistry as characters and Nicola Scott is a phenomenal artist. I just wish it didn't feel so static. As it is, in a few issues, once we're past Solomon Nekron, we might be on the way to something.

 TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE #8--Because we should end on a high note and also a very disturbingly hilarious one, I was fortunate to find this on one of my many sojourns out. Featuring a wildly inaccurate treatise on trains, a murder-happy goat-riding Angela Lansbury, and culminating with a wildly inaccurate and somewhat insanely plotted story of Richard Nixon trying to kill the astronauts who landed on the moon which is sponsored by a salad dressing that instigates orgies, this is Michael Kupperman at his dadaist best. It'll be a shame when this book is gone, as it functions as a very effective way to clear the mind. Kinda like peyote, only legal.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


 It's been awhile since I wrote something about the New Warriors, having covered the first and second volumes of Marvel's reprint collections awhile back. Thankfully, Vol. 3 has arrived, which is good, because in three volumes, we're just now getting past the first year of the book (You'll remember that Volume 2 was taken up in large part by the utterly empty "Kings of Pain" Annuals, which has as much to do with the New Warriors as a Spirograph set does with trigonometry) Volume 3 gets us into Year 2 of the book and plays around the edges with a few elements of the New Warriors story pool as the decks get cleared for the big storyline that will close the second year out.

 We begin with the three-part "Forever Yesterday" story, wherein a new version of old Nova villain the Sphinx rewrites reality, creating an alternate timeline four years before the other omnipotent Egyptian bad guy did it. It's an interesting little romp that uses Nova's backstory very well (I always thought it was strange the way the Sphinx caught the fancy of certain writers at Marvel after Nova's run finished and he became a Fantastic Four villain for some time after) has some cool re-designs by Mark Bagley, giving the Marvel heroes an Egyptian flair and the alternate universe stuff allows for suitably apocalyptic action without overstaying it's welcome or (like the Age of Apocalypse) becoming an undying reservoir of alternate character takes.

 Issue #14 is a done-in-one featuring Namorita getting the crap kicked out of her by Sea Urchin, a minor Namor villain (who also guest stars) Darkawk also guest stars, for reasons which seem barely justifiable, but make sense given the book's remit. While the issue struggles manfully to make all this stuff hang together, it doesn't really work, and Nicieza's Atlantean poetry is. . .uhm, let's just say he's done better elsewhere and move quickly on.

 #15, titled "The Sushi People," for some reason I hope to ask Fabian Nicieza about some day, starts another three-parter, this one featuring Psionex (the opposite numbers for the Warriors from issue #4) and features a rematch with Terrax, who, you will remember, was the bad guy from issue #1.Of course, being that Terrax is a herald of Galactus, this fight actually goes worse than the first issue fight and by the end of the three-parter, the Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer have been called in to deal with Terrax.

 As with "Kings of Pain, this doesn't really work so well, basically because it sidelines the Warriors in their own book. Had Nicieza just stuck with making it a re-match with Psionex, it might have been OK, and would have kept it more directly tied in with the main characters, but  it functions as a nice call-back to the book;s past while various subplots are moving along in the background which will ultimately culminate in issue #25 and the first major shake-up of the book.

 But that will come in Volume 4. Hopefully. Volume 3 culminates with two issues of the Avengers, featuring Rage being rather upset for a convenient marvel Universe allegory for the then-current L.A. riots. This being the Marvel Universe, of course, the riots are the work of the latest hate-Monger, and. . .well., while I laud Nicieza for trying to land this and trying to make Rage "work" as a character, it doesn't quite come off (possibly because Rage never really worked in Avengers anyway) but is included ere because the Warriors have a guest-starring role and very soon Rage will be folded into the Warriors, and this (though I'm not sure it was meant to at the time) lays the track for that.

 In all, it's a brisk read, and while all of it doesn't work as well as it might, it's no more objectionable than say, Chris Claremont's overly melodramatic team dynamics and heavy-handed social allegory that only made X-Men the most insanely popular superhero book on the stands. There are worse paradigms to try and imitate. For all the book's shortcomings, it has its own voice and a lot of energy, and that goes a long way towards spackling over the rough bits. It's well worth a read.

Friday, September 14, 2012


 There are two Steve Engleharts, obviously. One is the well-regarded comic writer who had a definitive run on Captain America and was one of the early architects of the Avengers, introducing concepts that would endure for decades (and, inadvertently, The Crossing) He is considered one of the greats of the early-to-mid 1970s Marvel writers.

 The other Steve Englehart has written comics so bewilderingly insane the mind fairly shrinks from contemplating it. Yes, whether it's putting an entire interstellar empire in the hands of a shitty comic relief character named Clumsy Foulup; Creating a superteam with a gay hero named "queer" who gets AIDS after being bitten by a racist South African vampire named the Hemogoblin, and, it must never be forgotten, created the man/myth/legend Snowflame; this Steve Englehart is considered a bit mad, but on the plus side, whatever he's writing is going to be memorable, in a "will cause post-traumatic stress syndrome" sort of way.

 All the way from ten years ago, Avengers: Celestial Quest is a story wherein Englehart returns to Marvel to continue writing about Mantis, considered his signature character. I'm going to let Wikipedia do the heavy lifting with regards to the character, because, for reasons which will become clear shortly, I kind of hate Mantis.

 Avengers: Celestial Quest is, nominally, an attempt by Englehart to tie up a whole bunch of rogue loose continuity ends he left when he left Marvel around 1988, and naturally, doing eight issues in 2002 when none of the original material had been kept in print for decades was the perfect time to tie up all the loose ends.

 It is, in a sense, precisely why this kind of backward-looking stuff can be a bad idea..

 So. Let me try to summarise this book as best I can without weeping and rocking back and forth on the floor: Mantis seeks the Avengers help because she got split into multiple copies and Thanos is going around killing these facets of her because he loves Death and she's the embodiment of life or some bullshit like this (Jim Starlin retconned all this as being a clone of Thanos, and for all people give him shit about using that decide as a way of Control & Z'ing plot developments he doesn't like, but stories like this are adequate justification for why having a way to run them out is a good idea) Mantis' rebellions son, Quoi, wanders around and has sex with a lizard-woman while his mom has sex with the Vision as a way of helping him get over breaking up with the Scarlet Witch, who fights Thor for god only knows what reason. The Avengers are then called to help Quoi defeat the Rot, which is a black spot in the universe created when Thanos and Death mated which happened when Thanos died the first time.

 Let me say that again: The universe is, essentially, under threat from Thanos' pecker tracks.

 (And with that, "Thanos pecker tracks" joins "best dinosaur comics" and "power girls tits" joins my ever-more unfortunate top search results list)

 This book barely makes a lick of sense, even to some fool like me who's steeped in this kind of thing. I think this is supposed to be some mediation on notions of love and family and anima and animus, love and loss, death and taxes, whiskey and rye, but what it actually is is a confusing mess featuring characters acting insanely out of character, plot developments pivoting on characters we just meet and are expected to care about and/or like, however, they're not likable and we're not really given a window into their motivation.

 And then, there's a subplot involving Haywire. Haywire is one of the Squadron Supreme, and had been knocking around the Marvel Universe with his storyline responsibilities more or less fulfilled. The main thing driving his plot in this book is hoping to bring his girlfriend, Inertia, back to life (who was killed in a rather perfunctory and baffling Crisis riff ten years and change before) and acts wildly out of character. He then ends up getting killed, and the Avengers are like, "Well, damn. We were on an adventure the whole time, and even though he was with us, HE wasn't!" Because what this book needed is the Avengers acting even more like selfish dickheads to button this journey of self-discovery.

 You were on an adventure? Man, fuck you guys--nothing in this book was an adventure. You're confusing it with "ordeal."

 I don't know that I hate this book exactly. My relationship with it is far more complicated than this. I think, reading this book and re-reading it for the purposes of this review has given me a kind of survivor guilt. I mean, after reading it, you've experienced this horrible, wrenching, tragedy which has shaken your faith in life being fair and people being generally happy. Depression sets in, and as the trauma becomes permanent, you actually stop being able to feel emotions (not in the lurid sociopath sort of way, but more in the "life has no meaning" way) and the only thing running through your mind is a desperate breathless question, repeated over and over: "why am I alive?"

 In short, I cannot recommend this comic, unless you really want to read eight issues of muddled overreach steeped in ridiculous characterisation, puzzling dramatic choices, overwrought melodrama, and unlikeable characters, culminating in an utterly bewildering resolution that, if it worked very hard and went through several rewrites, might well rise to the level of "making no sense at all." So for all you masochistic neurotics, your book has arrived at last.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

POWER RANGERS WEEK 7: "An Appropriately Delusional Finish"

 Hello and welcome back to the final installment of Power Rangers Week here at Witless Prattle. Last time, I tried to give a thumbnail sketch of the show that originated Power Rangers, Super Sentai, but I imagine it's touch to encapsulate 37 years of programming in one article. (Maybe I'll do a Super Sentai Week sometime) I wanted to close with something I'd been wanting to talk about for awhile now.

 Concomitant with the anniversary of Super Sentai, not only was an anniversary season  mooted (Gokaiger) but a more grown-up sentai show for older audiences was also released. Unlike what usually happens over here when things are made more grown up, this didn't feature dismemberment or anyone getting raped or bullshit like that (a "mature" Super Sentai show would be 1) ridiculous and 2) unbearable, plus, someone else is already doing it, kinda) it would, instead, be a zany parody of. . .well, everything, really. This is how the website tries to explain it:

 "Adding some new blood and abandoning the taboos and restrictions of the sentai genre, this is a forbidden reverse sentai series meant for the adult core group."

 Right. That should clear it up.

 It's called Hikounin Sentai Akibaranger ("Unofficial Task Force Akibaranger," as since they're the product of delusions they don't exist in the real world, and also because they're not part of the regular 37 Super Sentais) and it's a humdinger. I'm not satisfied with the quote from before--so here's another explanation from the website:

"Super Sentai shows have a glorious tradition that has been going for 36 years. But in its shadow there's a pile of discarded material, wild delusions and ulterior motives, which have been supporting the toku series without ever having the chance to actually shine in the open. And now that tremendous chaotic power has finally burst out. Its name is 'Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger!"

 As with all zany Japanese comedies, it consists mostly of yelling, mugging and pointing at things, but wrapped around all the slapstick is an interesting show that tries to do a lot of interesting things with the standard Super Sentai model and a couple of long-cherished ideas about storytelling. It helps even more that the comedy bits are equally funny as well. And there's also a very impressive twist in the finale of the series that's worth looking at, and that means to discuss it, we're gonna have to spoil the hell out of it.

 Akibaranger is the story of three hopeless otaku (for want of a longer explanation, let's just say "geeks") who are recruited by Hakase Hiroyo, proprietor of a Super Sentai themed restaurant to use their exceptional delusional power (their tendency to daydream to a ridiculous level) and  defend Akihabara (which is apparently nerd's paradise) from the Stema Otsu Coproration, which wants to replace the rampant nerdiness in Akihabara with something--anything--else. Naturally they send a woman in Nazi drag and granny glasses, ©Shiina, or "Malshiima" to acheive this end, because Japan.

 The Akibarangers are not really the kind of people you would trust with this kind of responility, as they're so geeky their obsessions rule their lives. You have Akagi/AkibaRed, 29 year old Sentai obsessive who can rattle off all sorts of inane factoids at will, but who is unable to talk to Sayaka, his would-be love interest.Yumeria/AkibaYellow is a cosplay fanatic who writes and draws slashfic about various characters (and yes, this is actually a plot point in this show) and Mistuki/AkibaBlue is the youngest of the group and the least nerdy and thinks AkibaRed and AkibaYellow are sad and weird, respectively. She sort of has a point.

 At least that's how it starts. The first six episodes are pretty much a stock Sentai parody. Malshiina appears with her first monster in the usual Sentai rock quarry, find out she's not dressed for this at all and walks off, shivering. The Akibarangers are constantly started by the explosions that go off behind them and when they do their series of poses introducing themselves--AkibaRed always uses a famous Sentai hero or villain, AkibaYellow goes on a long discursive rant about Comiket, and AkibaBlue doesn't really get why any of this is necessary at all. Upon destroying the monster, the Akibarangers wait the better part of the day for it to grow to giant-size, only to be disappointed. Oh yeah, and their giant robot is a transforming Prius.

 Admittedly, this is funny enough, but 13 episodes of it would be spreading it a bit too thin, which is why in episode 6, after establishing that the Akibarangers are just another delusion (soon after a fight, we inevitably cut back to the real world. and the Akibarangers are just throwing punches at nothing like utter goofs) but apparently thanks to their use of their delusion power, the barriers between worlds have fallen apart and Malshiima appears in the real world. This leads to a few episodes where the dynamic of the show changes all of a sudden--Hiroyo learns that Malshiima was actually a rejected character design her father did for an anime that she was the voice actor for, her father returns as Doctor Zed, who is a cyborg for heaven only knows what reason, and she is cursed that every time the Rangers use their powers she comes closer to death. Meanwhile, Malshiima is a bit confused, because the Stema Otsu Corporation they were supposed to be working for has apparently been superseded by the Delusion Empire, which is now a fleet of alien ships all of a sudden.

 Oh, and Agaki gets replaced by another AkibaRed, as he has been summoned to work for the Pentagon in Virginia, despite the fact that that makes exactly no sense at all on many many levels. Akagi contemplates the unusual turn of events and how they seem to be clumsily shifting the course of the show, and by Episode 11, things have taken a turn for the Grant Morrison, as Akagi realises he's in a TV show called Hikounin Sentai Akibaranger, and all these weird plot developments like the . . .uh. . .nearly everything in the last half of the paragraph above, is part of the show being retooled by the shows writer "Saburo Hatte," (who, naturally, doesn't exist--it's a pen name used by Toei) When the plot wrinkles stop, Akagi decides this can only mean one thing--the retool hasn't worked, and the show's being cancelled.

 Stick with me--the rest of this will probably break your mind.

 Naturally, he tries a mild way of stopping the show from ending by creating foreshadowing for events that can't possibly be resolved immediately . . .which are resolved, immediately. Moreover, the Delusion Empire is taken over by latecoming villain Delu-Knight, who wants a final battle with Akagi. Akagi realises that their final battle means the end of the show and tries to keep putting off Delu-Knight by saying their final battle will happen. . .but not for about six months.

 Delu-Knight is having none of this and summons his giant robot, Boomerang Titan. The Akibarangers mech grows to giant size and kicks the Rangers into the cockpit, so the Rangers blow it up. Willing to let Boomerang Titan rampage through the city if it means prolonging the show, this all goes to hell when one of them throws a soda can at Boomerang Titan which manages to destroy the mech despite that not making any sense.

 Worse still, Doctor Zed decides to turn good, which makes every despair that there's no way to prolong the show, at least Malshiina's still alive and just as willing to prolong their battle, only it's out of their hands--the show's ending (there's a giant "END" title) and even hacking it to bits doesn't stop the nonexistent writer from finally slapping his hand over the camera lens and the show ending.

 Don't take my word for it--watch the damn thing yourself:

Hikounin Sentai Akibaranger - 12 by Raul_Gonzalez_6

 This being Akibaranger, naturally, we have one more episode, which is a clip show which is a densely metatextual commentary on the show itself, and clip-shows in general.

 I love this show so much. It is utterly insane and kind of brilliant in the way it evolves from a stupid parody to an all-out assault on the fourth wall. I especially like Akagi's comment that despite being unofficial, the Akibarangers won't be forgotten, because nerds don't forget anything, however unofficial, non-canon, or retconned away, because damn if that's not an awful truth that cuts across all borders. The whole metatextual levels and callbacks to older sentai shows (and everything else they call back to) is put together in a very intricate way, and really, even if the comedy sails over your head, structurally it's a very interesting show. The Grant Morrison comparison wasn't a specious one, as he did this same kind of thing in Animal Man.

 And with that, Power Rangers Week draws to a close. From the hits this was . . .surprisingly popular, though I couldn't imagine why this is. In any event, I hope you enjoyed it, and we here at Witless Prattle will resume normal service just as soon as we are sure what "normal" is.