Archive for September, 2013

My take on the “Breaking Bad” series finale for Through The Shattered Lens website :

Through the Shattered Lens

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The promotional blurbs on A&E’s cover packaging for the various box set and stand-alone DVD releases of Patrick McGoohan’s classic series The Prisoner refer to it as “television’s first masterpiece,” but let’s be brutally honest here — for a good long time there it probably stood as television’s only “masterpiece.”

Which isn’t to say that there haven’t been some good shows over the years, but start-to-finish, wire-to-wire masterpieces have been pretty tough to come by. I won’t speculate here as to why that’s been with any kind of probing analysis, apart from making the obvious observation that American TV, in particular, has been geared to appeal to the so-called “lowest common denominator” for so long now that frankly most people don’t even expect for there to be anything good on the tube when they turn it on, even with 200-300 channels to choose from. We all just sorta watch it…

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That’s it, I’m done — my final DC “Villains Month” review for Through The Shattered Lens website :

Through the Shattered Lens

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So, I’ve saved the worst for last.

Oh, sure, there are plenty more DC “Villains Month” books that we could talk about, but I counted up earlier today and between this site and Geeky Universe I’ve reviewed an even 10 of these things, and that’s enough for me. After this, I’m out.

Anyhoo, in recent weeks, in case you haven’t been following the comics industry scuttlebutt, DC has come under fire for having an open submission contest for new artists. What’s so wrong with that, you ask? Why, nothing — it’s great to find new “talent” to replace the already poorly-compensated average comic book penciller, I suppose. You don’t like drawing Justice League for 80 bucks a page, no health insurance or pension, and little to no royalties per copy sold? Fine. We’ll find some new kid to take your job who’ll work for 60 bucks a page and won’t…

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“Oh, The Villainy” continues over at Through The Shattered Lens —

Through the Shattered Lens

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Not sure what to really say about Two Face #1, or as it’s known to the more officious Batman And Robin #23.1 (even though, say it with me, “Robin’s dead again these days”), apart from the fact that it probably has the neatest of the 3-D holographic covers that have adorned any of DC’s “Villains Month” books. And since that’s the only selling point this comic  seems to have going for it, maybe I should just leave it at that and call it a day, right?

Nah. The folks behind this travesty don’t deserve to get off that easy.

And by “folks,” I should say that I mean specifically writer Peter J. Tomasi. The art by Guillem March on this one is actually pretty good — even really good for the first few pages, before settling into a “competent enough to get the job done” kind of groove. The…

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“Oh, The Villainy” moves over to Through the Shattered Lens for its last few segments, beginning with “Joker” #1.

Through the Shattered Lens

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Okay, first things first — for those of you (assuming there are any) who have been wondering wondering just where the hell I’ve been hiding the last couple of months, rest assured, I’ve been writing as much as ever — maybe even moreso. Just not about movies. And just not here. Which may come as a relief, I’ll bet, to some. But for those among you who just have  to have an explanation —

I’m currently in the midst of two comics-related series over at http://www.geekyuniverse.com, which I’ve been — ahem! — “re-presenting” over on my own “main” site — https://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com — as well. One, entitled “Just Pay Ditko!” is an exploration of the questionable (at best) ethics of the current comic reprint craze that’s seeing the works of some of the industry’s greatest talents packaged in high-quality, expensive hardcovers — with no compensation being directed toward the artists and…

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For those of you who haven’t been paying much attention to the so-called “Batman Universe” lately, the Court Of Owls are relative newcomers to the Caped Crusader’s newly-rewritten-backstory, created by writer Scott Synder and artist Greg Capullo, and represent, as far as I’m aware, the first “original” Bat-villains created specifically for “The New 52.” As a matter of fact, ol’ Bats has been battling them — and their undead assassin known as the Talon — pretty much non-stop for the past two years now. Which means we’re getting a pretty healthy and heavy dose of these guys, like it or not.

Who exactly are they, then, you’re probably wondering at this point? Well, no one knows — and everybody knows. They’re a shadowy organization composed of members of Gotham City’s ruling elite who wear Owl Masks when they they hobnob together in secret to set their city’s fate, so if they sound a lot like the Masons or Shriners — or at least like what the conspiracy crowd would have you believe the Masons or Shriners are like —that’s probably not too far off the mark. Of course, the whole assassin-employed-for-a-larger-purpose angle reeks of another — and frankly better — Bat-nemesis, namely Ra’s Al Ghul, but whatever. All in all the Court’s not a bad bunch of villains even if we don’t know exactly who they are. Which is probably part of their charm, I suppose.

In any case, the Waynes have apparently been bumping into these mysterious string-pullers for a couple centuries now, so there’s some bad blood that’s built up between them and Batman’s “real life” alter-ego, even if we’re only just now (well, now as in over the course of the past 24 months) hearing about it.

Naturally DC’s going to want to showcase this current “hot” property in the ongoing “Villains Month,” and give ’em the full works with a 3-D holographic cover and everything, and so it’s come to pass that Batman And Robin #23.2 has been purposely “hijacked” to become Court Of Owls #1 and author James Tynion IV and illustrator Jorge Lucas have been tasked with presenting something of a stand-alone story featuring these whoever-they-ares doing their thing with no Dark Knight Detective around to scuttle their plans.

I guess I found the whole thing reasonably involving enough as a reader, and Lucas’ rather somber and atmospheric art job is one of the better ones turned in on any of the “Villain” books, but it’s worth pointing out that Tynion is essentially following the same blueprint for this issue as he did for his Ra’s Al Ghul And The League Of Assassins #1 script (I won’t say which came first, since while the books themselves hit the store shelves one week apart, with this one getting a jump on its counterpart, chances are that Tynion probably wrote them at more or less the same time) — namely throw in a few flashback scenes of dubious (if any) import centering around the Court’s past and somehow tie those in with a present-day narrative that sees an emissary of the Forever Evil version of the Sinister Syndicate approaching the Owl-heads to jump on board with his masters’ plans for world domination, only to have his generous gesture of a slice of the action rebuked in rather stark and violent terms.

In short, the two books are the same thing, only drawn by different artists and featuring different bad guys. This one might be the (nominally) “better” of the two, I suppose, but neither feels all that necessary and both are far more competent than they are actually compelling. I didn’t feel the urge to punch a hole in the wall or slit my wrists or something a la the reaction I had to, say, Darkseid #1 or The Creeper #1, but I did feel like I could have done a lot better things with the four bucks and ten minutes’ time this comic cost me.

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This time out, the dreary road that is DC’s “Villains Month” leads us to Ra’s Al Ghul And The League Of Assassins  #1 (or as it’s known in more official quarters Batman And Robin #23.3 — even though Robin is, once again, dead), and I guess as far as these things go it’s actually not so terribly bad — but it’s certainly nothing special either, even though the 3-D holographic cover is out to convince you otherwise, of course.

The story for this issue, written by Scott Snyder’s frequent understudy (and probably heir-all-too-apparent) James Tynion IV starts off with some flashback material to Ra’s and the gang’s early days (think Crusade-era), then flashes forward to the present day where we find an emissary of the Earth-3 Sinister Syndicate group of far-less-than-heroes currently planning to take over “our” now-apparently-Justice-League-free world making his pitch to the immortal one to get him and his coterie of quasi-mystical killers to throw in with his dimension-hopping masters.

Ra’s declines the invitation, and that’s that. We get a few brief recap scenes of “The Ghoul”‘s earlier years thrown in, with special focus given to his first meeting with Batman, his arrangement of an heir between his house and that of Gotham’s Wayne clan (which resulted in that Robin death I just alluded to, of course), and that’s about it.

All in all it’s reasonably readable, if breezy and insubstantial,  stuff, the art by Jeremy Haun is, like the script, serviceable if unspectacular, and at least you walk away satisfied that DC found some way of involving the new readers they desperately need in these proceedings without resorting to a by-the-numbers (and bastardized — this is “The New 52,” after all) origin story.  Sure  you’d still definitely be better off with four bucks in your pocket rather than this book bagged n’ boxed in your collection,  but  in its (admittedly small) favor , the whole thing  isn’t quite as blatant a rip-off as most of the other titles in this still-unfolding travesty have been.

Are we still a long way from anything  giving off even the most faint and remote odor of greatness here? You bet we are. But Tynion and Haun at least seem semi-concerned with delivering a competent (enough) comic to their readers, and while it’s not “damn, I gotta read that again!” stuff by any means, it’s fair to say that the first read-through isn’t a goddamn ordeal like most of this “Villains Month” shit has been.

The final verdict here, then, is one of tired ambivalence. The book’s not actually worth liking by any means, but hey — the guys who wrote and drew it showed up for work. That makes it very nearly a masterpiece in comparison to, say, Scarecrow #1 or Desaad  #1 — but not when you line it up against much of anything else.

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So, we’re into week three of DC’s “Villains Month,” and at this point the best I can say for this whole naked cash-grab is that it’s starting to feel pretty damn relentless. And pretty damn tedious, as well.  Good characters are being sullied and trashed, bad characters are being “re-imagined” into even worse forms, and all in all the only thing the DiDio/Lee junta seems to have any concern with is making sure the various 3-D holographic covers look kinda neat.

Are you depressed yet? ‘Cuz I sure am.

Anyway, one of the new “Villain Books” that hit the racks earlier today was Scarecrow #1 (or Detective Comics #23.3 if you prefer) , and even by the amazingly low standard already set by its predecessors, this one is particularly dire : no origin recap of demented pscyhiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane is on offer here (thank goodness for small favors), but what writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Szymon Kurdanski have given us instead in an unintelligible mess of a story that utterly fails in its one obvious and overriding mission — namely to whet reader appetites for the forthcoming Forever Evil : Arkham War mini-series that’s designed to pit the escapees from Gotham’s infamous lunatic asylum against their counterparts from Blackgate Prison. Crane/Scarecrow spends the length of this issue going around warning his fellow former Arkhamites about the impending conflict with his trusty sidekick (and former Arkham staffer himself) Hudson in tow, none of them seem to care (neither will you, so hey, the feeling’s mutual), and then he kills hapless Hudson and rants and raves from a rooftop about how, soon enough, all of Gotham will be his.

No Batman appearance since the DC heroes have all supposedly been killed in the pages of Forever Evil, nothing at all to capture the casual reader’s interest or attention, and heck, Scarecrow never even dons his full “nightmare garb” even once, apart from on the cover. The story’s nondescript and utterly without merit, the same can be said for the art, and the “guest appearances” by Mr. Freeze, the Riddler, Killer Croc, and Poison Ivy are all both listless and pointless. Okay, everybody’s been told trouble’s brewing, end of story, go pick up the first issue of what’s sure to be a pointless mini-series spun off from another mini-series, and let’s call it a day, shall we? Thanks for shelling out four bucks for the obviously minimal amount of “effort” and “thought” we’ve put into things here, now prime your wallet to pump out even more of the green stuff if you want to know where the “story” goes from here.

The weird thing is — for a book that take all of ten minutes to read, Scarecrow #1 sure can leave ya feeling tired. Exhausted, even. It’s like the culmination of the race to the bottom of the barrel that “Villains Month” has been in general, and now that we’ve hit this apex of by-the-numbers drudgery at its most undisguised and obvious, who knows? Maybe there’s nowhere to go but up.

Don’t bet on it, though. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about “The New 52” two years in, it’s that things can — and, frankly, do — always get worse.