March 2017
S M T W T F S
« Dec    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

Archives

  • 2016
  • 2015
  • 2014
  • 2013
  • 2012
  • 2011
  • 2010
  • 2009
  • 2008
  • 2007
  • 2006

Categories

  • Film
  • Journals & Blogs
  • Places
  • Reviews

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #20, by David Hine, Doug Braithwaite & Bill Reinhold (DC)
  • Top 10: Season Two #3, by Zander Cannon & Gene Ha (DC/America’s Best)
  • Hulk #9, by Jeph Loeb, Arthur Adams & Frank Cho (Marvel)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #21, by Duane Swierczynski & Timothy Green (Marvel)
  • Thor #12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Oliver Coipel & Mark Morales (Marvel)
  • Gigantic #2 of 5, by Rick Remender & Eric Nguyen (Dark Horse)
  • Mister X: Condemned #1 of 4, by Dean Motter (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #2 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
  • Invincible #57, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • The Astounding Wolf-Man #11, by Robert Kirman, Jason Howard & Cliff Rathburn (Image)
  • Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #5, of 5, by Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & James Nguyen (Red 5)
Hulk #9 I think this is the end for me for this run of Hulk: Three issues to tell two trivial stories of the green Hulk and the red Hulk is a lot of time wasted, and I’m not sticking around to see if Loeb gets on with it anytime soon. The series started out with a bang, but quickly ran out of gas. It’s doubly disappointing since Greg Pak did such a great job with the Planet Hulk/World War Hulk stories in the previous Hulk series.

Anyway, the two stories wrapping up here are the green Hulk fighting a horde of Wendigo in Las Vegas, and the She-Hulk and a group of female super-heroes fighting the Red Hulk, and getting pwned by him. The Art Adams art on the first story is fun, but the story doesn’t give him any great panels to draw. The Frank Cho artwork on the second is pretty much Frank Cho drawing a whole slew of buxom women in tights, which is pretty much what you’d expect.

At this point I don’t understand why I moved to this book rather than sticking with Greg Pak when the previous series became The Incredible Hercules. Don’t I know that I should stick with creators, not characters? Oh well.

The Immortal Iron Fist #21 The Immortal Iron Fist continues its trend of punctuating its major stories with one-shots about Iron Fists from different eras. This one features the Iron Fist of 3099, who’s sent to save the dying world of Yaochi from its oppressive tyrant. The story’s pretty good, and Timothy Green’s artwork is fantastic: Elegant layouts with lines for shading rather than use of blacks, giving it a little bit of a European look. The final panel, a 2/3-page spread, is terrific. Even if you’re not reading Iron Fist regularly, you might want to check this issue out.
Mister X: Condemned #1 The original Mister X series came out back when I was still pretty much only reading superhero comics, and it was so not a superhero comic. Although it’s been collected, it doesn’t hold up terribly well: The story arc is sketchy and the artwork is erratic.

So what is Mister X? Well, creator/writer/designer Dean Motter has done a trio of comic book series about three cities which all have a retro-futuristic architecture, a mash-up of styles from the 20s to the 50s and what those decades thought the future might look like stylistically. Mister X was the first, Terminal City the second (and the best), and Electropolis the third. Mister X takes place in Radiant City, a dark place whose architecture drives its citizens mad, earning it the nickname Somnopolis. Mister X himself was the designer of the city, now a lone renegade who’s driven to try to fix the city, although he has mixed results.

This second series opens with Radiant City’s leadership hiring demolition companies to take out the more rotten parts of the city, but they’re not entirely in control of what’s happening, and things start going awry, and people get killed. Then, Mister X reappears in the apartment of his old girlfriend, Mercedes, asking for the plans.

Motter isn’t the most versatile artist, but his esthetic and layouts are enough to carry the story, and this issue is a good place to get acquainted with the character. Time will tell if the advances in storytelling that Motter displayed in his later projects carries over to Mister X, but it’s off to a good start.

Atomic Robo: Dogs of War #5 The second Atomic Robo wraps up this week, and the last issue is a bit of a letdown after the first four, with a single-issue adventure to stop the Nazi scientist Skorzeny in 1944. He gets captured and is rescued by a Scotsman with a very heavy accent, who steals the show from Robo in his own comic. It feels so disjointed from the rest of the series that it feels like a throwaway issue, just when the series seemed to be hitting its stride. Oh, well.

It features an epilogue with a later meeting between Robo and Skorzeny, which is better than the main story.

As I said when I reviewed #4, I think better character development is the key to this series taking off. Robo is not much of a character, and the supporting cast is mostly too sketchy. They need to develop a few more characters and make them memorable. Until that happens, the series is just going to feel like a set of vignettes, ultimately not going anywhere.

(For a dissenting opinion, see this review at Major Spoilers.)

Christmas Photos

A few photos from our Christmas. First, Jefferson and Newton each sacked out in the scratch lounge my Mom bought for them:

Jefferson in the scratch lounge Newton in the scratch lounge

None of the cats have really figured out the “scratch” part of the lounge – well, Newton scratched at it briefly, but only once. They’ll probably work it out. We’ve never had cardboard scratchers for them that I can recall, just rope and carpet posts. (Newton and Roulette prefer carpet, while Jefferson and Blackjack prefer rope.)

Lastly, here’s our artificial tree:

Our artificial Christmas tree

Not bad, eh?

Merry Christmas!

A quiet day here at the ol’ homestead. I’ve nearly kicked my cold, but Debbi’s still weighed down by hers, so we stayed home, opened presents, watched TV, and phoned our families.

I’ve cooked dinner the last two nights: Last night I sautéed marinated chicken cutlets, served with gravy, and made rice pilaf on the side. Tonight I baked meatloaf (bacon-wrapped!) with potatoes gratin on the side, and steamed carrots. A giant stack of dirty dishes later and everything turned out really well. I’m always a little surprised when I can put things together like that and it ends up yummy.

It looks like the rain is coming to an end and it’ll warm up by early next week. With any luck Debbi will shake her cold and we can have a pleasant vacation.

I hope the holidays are treating you and yours well. If I haven’t talked with you lately, feel free to drop my a line or look me up on IM and say ‘hi’.

This Week’s Haul

  • Fables #79, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Peter Gross & Andrew Pepoy (DC)
  • Ex Machina #40, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #10 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Carlos Magno & Julio Ferreira, and Ron Marz, Andie Tong & Mark McKenna (DC)
  • Terra #4 of 4, by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers vol 109 HC, collecting The Avengers vol 1 #69-79, by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Sam Grainger & Tom Palmer (Marvel)
  • Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #2 of 2, by Warren Ellis, Clayton Crain & Kaare Andrews (Marvel)
  • Beanworld Holiday Special, by Larry Marder (Dark Horse)
Ex Machina #40 It’s been a while since I’ve written about Ex Machina – about a year, in fact. The comic’s tone is very low-key, consisting mostly of talking heads with the occasional action scene or fantastical occurrence. But for the most part it involves New York Mayor Mitchell Hundred blazing his own unique trail across the post-9/11 political scene, as the only person in the world (well, almost) with superpowers (he can talk to and command machines).

This issue is both a whole issue of talking heads, and yet something of a departure from the main arc: It involves the comic’s writer and artist going in to meet with Mayor Hundred to interview for the job of telling his life story in comic book form. Self-referential, with an amusing twist at the end. It’s interesting to see how writer Vaughan and artist Harris see themselves: Vaughan seems filled with self-doubt and looks to Hundred for guidance (even if he doesn’t come out and say it), while Harris is more flamboyant and self-assured. It’s a cute little aside.

Reportedly Ex Machina will conclude with issue #50, and Comic Book Resources has some info on what the final ten issues will bring. I’m glad to see that the explanation behind Mitchell’s powers will be revealed, but even with 80% of the series completed, I still don’t really know where it’s going. I worry that it’s just not going to have the payoff to justify the journey, and the journey’s been a little too laid-back to justify itself.

Terra #4 Terra wraps up this month, and it’s been a real rarity in comics these days: A fun adventure story that doesn’t have aspirations of being some big must-read event, but rather has the modest goals of setting up the new heroine’s background and plugging her in to the world around her. It also came out fast – the first issue came out in early November. Yowza!

In this concluding issue we learn a little more about Terra and the city she comes from, and she faces down the villain of the series, who turns out to be a less-than-compelling figure. But the series has treated Terra’s opponents as throw-away figures from the beginning, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised that the guy who shows up in all four issues is only slightly more significant.

The issue takes the very unusual tack of spending its final third with what’s mostly a talking heads sequence: Chatting with Power Girl about where she goes from here, and then the two of them going out shopping in their secret identities (a concept Terra doesn’t quite get). It’s funny and quirky, but it feels more like the lead-in to a regular series rather than the end of a mini-series. I guess Terra’s moving over to Terror Titans, a series I have absolutely no interest in reading, so I dunno if she’ll have any more solo adventures. But if Palmiotti, Gray and Conner produce them, I’d read ’em.

Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes #2 Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes concludes with two more stories showing alternate outcomes of the first “Ghost Box” story in Warren Ellis’ AXM run. Both issues have been good stuff, but not apparently essential; mainly they convey the fact that the interloper that the X-Men stopped in the main title was the spearhead of a potential invasion force from a parallel world, and the team is fortunate they were able to stop him, since we see how much worse things could have gone.

The mini-series has taken a lot of flak for its $3.99 cover price, given that about a third of the pages are Ellis’ scripts for the stories in the issue. I can understand that, and no, I don’t think I really got great value for my $3.99, although I don’t really regret buying them anyway, since what there was, was indeed entertaining. Food for thought given Brian Hibbs’ musings on mainstream comics likely jumping from $2.99 to $3.99 per issue across-the-board soon.

Beanworld Holiday Special Larry Marder’s Tales of the Beanworld was one of the weirder independent comics from back in the day: Written in a fable-like style, with stick-figure art, it was still charming in its way. It main focus was to concoct a self-contained world with its own unique ecosystem, following the characters through their lives as various developments upset the status quo. Now, years later, we get the Beanworld Holiday Special, which I’ve heard is leading a new Beanworld series coming out next year.

Happily, it’s more of the same charm and weirdness, as the beans try to figure out why the next generation doesn’t seem to be interested in learning the trades necessary to keep their society running. It’s a good introduction to the concept, and is suitable for all ages. If you’re a comics fan who’s at all interested in stuff beyond superhero fare, you ought to check it out; you might be surprised.

A Week of Blecch

My cold has been lingering all week. At least I don’t have the bone-tired feeling which tells me my body is spending a large amount of its energy fighting it off, but I still have the congestion and – the worst part – the annoying cough. I’m slowly getting better, and I’ve certainly been well enough to go to work, but it’s been frustrating.

On top of that, Debbi came down with the cold last night, and is home from work today. Amazing that it took her a week to come down with it (assuming it’s the same cold, and not some different cold that I’ll be catching in a few days). Hopefully she’ll get over it faster than I have, as it’s taken me a long time to shake it; usually I get over my colds except for some post-nasal drip within three days.

Meanwhile, we’re having ridiculously cold weather here, for the Bay Area: Highs in the 50s or even 40s, and lows below freezing. Contrary to popular belief, we do usually have a few below-freezing nights during the winter, but this cold snap has been around for a week, and it’s going to stick around through at least the weekend. Brr. We’re supposed to get more rain soon, which is fine; I just wish it’d warm up a little.

Despite the cold weather, the trees around here still haven’t dropped all their leaves. Usually I get out the leaf blower and suck up the leaves in my back yard over Thanksgiving. This year it looks like I won’t even be able to do it over Christmas. Well, maybe the next round of storms will blow the rest of the leaves to the ground.

Anyway, I’m just about done with my Christmas shopping, despite getting a ridiculously late start this year. So that’s something. I’m looking forward to have a nice quiet Christmas. But then, don’t I every year?

The Doctor and the King

Pop culture tidbits from teh Intertubes:

First, a two-page spread of all ten Doctors by Kelly Yates, from an upcoming Doctor Who comic book. (via The Beat) Nice idea, but the art isn’t a style I’m into, and something about the figures seems rather off: arms a little long, legs a little short, faces not quite right…

More ridiculously, here’s Warren Ellis, King of the Internet. (via Warren Ellis)

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #15, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Final Crisis #5 of 7, by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Marco Rudy & Jesus Merino (DC)
  • Echo #8, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #2, by John Arcudi & John Severin (Dark Horse)
  • Thieves & Kings: Apprentices Part One, by Mark Oakley (I-Box)
  • Invincible #56, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Final Crisis #5 Maybe it’s too easy to keep bashing Final Crisis. “This issue: Nothing happens – again!” It is fun, though.

But it’s so easy because this is one bad mini-series. Grant Morrison’s storytelling seems to have headed south in a big way around the time of Seven Soldiers, and it seems like Final Crisis is the nadir of that plummet. Characterization is somewhere between “nonexistent” and “incomprehensible”, the plot doesn’t make much sense, and there’s basically no sense of tension (largely because there are no characters we can relate to). It’s like Morrison set out to present the sterling example of a story which seems cool and deep and multifaceted, but is anything but those things. It’s not just style-over-substance; there ain’t much style here, either.

In this latest issue, Darkseid has been resurrected (from what?) and has taken over half the world’s population with his mental domination (again?). The remaining heroes are launching their final strike against Darkseid’s troops, though it seems like they don’t have much idea what’s really going on. The Alpha Lantern charges against Green Lantern are exposed for the sham they are, and the Guardians of the Universe send him and his cohorts to Earth, with “24 hours to save the universe”. Superman is missing (he’s off having his own adventures in a spin-off mini-series), but the apparent savior emerges in the form of the fallen Monitor who seems to be awaken by a Mother Box in the form of a Rubik’s Cube. Meanwhile the Flashes, whose presence seemed key to the story a few issues ago, don’t show up at all.

Apparently Mary Marvel is possessed by Darkseid’s sadistic scientist, Desaad, which is why she’s got a bad haircut and is dressed in leather, but it’s not clear to me why she’s the only hero who’s so possessed; most of the other Apokaliptians have taken over ordinary people. It doesn’t make much sense. And then, in this issue she takes out Black Adam by throwing a car at him, which is the sort of thing he ought to be able to shrug off and barely notice. Stupid.

The art is very pretty. Carlos Pacheco splits time with J.G. Jones, and the difference is barely noticible on casual reading. But Pacheco is a top-tier artist, so that’s almost to be expected.

I just don’t see how Morrison can salvage this series in 2 issues, nor that it could be anything that DC could build on in their universe for 2009. It’s relentlessly nihilistic, and largely nonsensical. It’s becoming hard to understand why this project was ever green-lighted.

(For a very different opinion, there’s Brian Cronin’s review; what he finds awesome I just find to be tiresome retread.)

Thieves & Kings: Apprentices Part One In many ways, Thieves & Kings should be the last comic book I’d become a fan of: It’s set in a medieval fantasy world, which I generally find boring. Writer/artist Mark Oakley’s style has a quasi-Magna look to it, with angular faces and big-dot eyes and all that, and I can’t stand the Magna art style. It’s a lengthy ongoing story which ebbs and flows and rarely seems to bring its plot or characters to a stopping point; in many ways it’s an ongoing soap opera. It’s portentious and often sentimental, and it’s frequently very difficult to figure out how its extended timeline fits together. And, it alternates graphic sequences with illustrated text sections, the latter of which annoy the hell out of me in most other books.

And yet, since I first discovered it over ten years ago, it’s been one of my favorite independent comics.

The key is that it’s strongly character-driven. The two main characters – a young thief, Rubel, and a young sorceress, Heath – both start off as young teenagers, and despite their skills and maturity of their age, they often find themselves in circumstances they just don’t have the experience to be able to handle. We see them grow up in a land with magic (some visible, some merely implied) under extraordinary circumstances, and Oakley rarely sends them down the obvious path. The supporting cast is also strong: The eccentric but powerful wizard Quinton Zempfester; the Shadow Lady and her murky goals; an oppressive Prince of the land of Oceansend and his rebellious, exiled sister.

The series has been on hiatus for a while, and now it’s back in a new 104-page volume, which apparently will be the format of the series from now on, which is okay with me; after the hiatus I’m happy to have more of the series in any form!

This volume focuses on a pair of young sorceresses, Kim and Leahanna, who recently left their no-good mentor, Locumire, and have thrown in with Rubel and Heath. Both of them also have ties to the Shadow Lady, and this book explores those ties through some flashbacks, as well as Leahanna having a public and violent meltdown when confronted with the brutality of the Prince’s soldiers.

The book has the series’ trademark character bits, but also a big confrontation which is a rarity in the series and thus quite a shift in tone when it happens. It also some humorous bits, such as when Rubel gets his feet turned to metal to keep him out of the way. Oakley’s artwork is clean and easy to follow, and his ability to draw complex cityscapes is among the best in the business. It may not be the ideal place to jump in to the story, but it’s not bad.

If you try this one and enjoy it, or if you’re willing to just jump in and start from the beginning, I highly recommend the first two volumes, The Red Book and The Green Book, which you can order from Oakley’s web site. They’re probably the two best volumes in the series so far, and the series flagged a little before it went on hiatus. But I’m hoping the time away will have reinvigorated Oakley and that we’ll see new stuff fairly regularly and that things will move along a little better.

Time will tell if Thieves & Kings ultimately delivers on the considerable promise of its early issues – after all this time I’m still not sure where it’s heading – but I think it’s fair to say it’s greatly underappreciated. I’m elated to see it come back.

A Rough Week

It’s been a pretty rough week since we got back from Disneyland.

Wednesday on her drive home, Debbi’s car hit a ladder which was lying on the freeway. Actually it sounds like it practically hit her: She says it was a couple of lanes over in the road, and another car hit it, which sent it spinning across the road towards her. It looks like it did a pretty good number on her bumper, but thankfully it seems like the bumper protected the rest of the car from being damaged.

Wednesday evening I came down with a cold which laid me low on Thursday: I woke up and called in sick to work, and then went back to sleep for several hours. I was better on Friday and went in to work largely because I wanted to say goodbye to our departing intern. But today I’ve still been pretty sick. We started putting up our Christmas lights, but I ran out of gas pretty quickly, and slept for several hours this afternoon. This meant that we ended up skipping Debbi’s company party, which like last year was held at the Giants ballpark. I’d been looking forward to going, but being sick and the weather being cold (with a chance of rain) we decided it wasn’t a good idea. Bummer.

So we’re having a quiet night at home, and probably more of the same tomorrow. The middle of the holiday season isn’t a great time to get stalled out for several days – I’m well behind on my Christmas shopping – so hopefully I can knock this thing out of my system tomorrow.

Our Annual Disney Excursion

We’re back from our almost-annual trip to Disneyland. I say ‘almost’ because last year we went to Disney World instead. As usual we went down with our friends Lisa and Michel, and met up with other friends Yvonne and Wender down there. On the drive down we all text messaged with Debbi’s sister Janine, who was working that evening, and we alternated with her coming up with movie titles for each letter of the alphabet. There are more movies that start with Q and X than you might think!

We usually stay at a hotel in walking distance of the main gate, and this time we stayed at the Candy Cane Inn, which was a little weird in that it had mechanical key-cards on the doors, rather than the usual programmable mag-strip ones. I don’t think I’ve stayed at a hotel which didn’t have mag-strip key cards in a decade or so; I wonder why they haven’t upgraded?

Our alarm went off at 5:30 am on Sunday morning so we could eat breakfast and get to the park at 8 when the gates opened. Yes, I know, it’s practically inhuman. 🙂

The weather on Sunday was great, warm although not actually sunny. We zipped through the Indiana Jones ride and then went over to Space Mountain. There we were fortunate to end up in the “handicapped car”, in which they let us go through twice. Space Mountain is one of the better roller coasters I’ve been on, so this was a treat. We also went on the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, which was okay, although it’s no roller coaster.

Over at California Adventure we played the new attraction, Toy Story Midway Mania, which is a lot of fun as you get to shoot all sorts of things in a virtual arcade and rack up points. It’s very well conceived and implemented, and naturally the lines were quite long. No Fastpass, alas. But we did Fastpass California Screamin’, which we rode 3 or 4 times during our two days there.

A temporary ‘mini-attraction’, Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar, describes the changes in store for California Adventure. They’re basically removing the northern California decor from the park (such as the Golden Gate Bridge) and adding more southern California elements, plus more character bits (a big Mickey head on the ferris wheel). This is rather disappointing, especially since I enjoy the park for the rides rather than the character bits. On the other hand, they’re adding some new attractions, including a large area named Cars Land, which apparently will expand the park considerably, probably by consuming another parking lot. The key ride looks like it will resemble Test Track, which was the coolest ride at Epcot in Disney World.

Wender and Yvonne left after dinner as they were only staying for one day and had to drive home, but we stayed into the evening and for the fireworks. But a sign that we’re all getting older is that we were running out of gas by 10 (can’t imagine why – we’d only been running around on our feet for 14 hours) and decided to head to sleep before the park closed.

Since we called it an early night on Sunday, I was game for getting up at oh-god-thirty again on Monday to go to the park; usually I sleep in a couple more hours on our second day. When we stopped to take pictures of ourselves in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, we met a Disneyland employee who was pin trading and seemed to be there to greet visitors and tell them interesting trivia about the park.

We walked through the restored castle – it closed before my first trip to the park several years ago – and ran into him again outside. He told us about the Matterhorn ride: Apparently it consists of three individual structures (the ride tracks, the mountain, and the old central tower for the Skyway, and there’s a basketball half-court inside the structure. Wacky! Then he took us to the front of the line so we could go on the ride. Debbi and Lisa were talking about how we were having all kinds of good luck on this trip.

The day was full of rides as usual, plus an excursion to get beignets in Downtown Disney. We had a bit of bad luck when I wanted to ride the Disneyland Railroad, but it was held up by the parade going on. It go an all-clear to go once, but just as it was moving a couple and their small children decided to get off, and the conductor had to stop the train, and they missed their window. Bummer! (And geez, what were those nincompoops thinking rushing off like that?) But we did eventually get to ride it.

Sadly, Disneyland closed at 6 on Monday for the employees’ cast party, and although we went over to California Adventure, it was pretty crowded and we only went on a couple of rides. Then we were rather indecisive about where to get dinner, but ended up at the House of Blues, where we were fortunate that there was a shorter-than-advertised wait.

Tuesday we pulled everything together and drove back to the bay area. Debbi remarked that we’re always much less chatty on the drive back than the drive down; I think it’s because we’re all tired from being on our feet most of the weekend. At least, that’s my excuse!

But it was a good trip. Debbi really loves Disneyland, and although I don’t need as much Disney as she’s up for, I enjoy going once in a while.

This Week’s Haul

  • Justice Society of America #21, by Geoff Johns, Alex Ross, Dale Eaglesham, Jerry Ordway, Bob Wiacek & Nathan Massengill (DC)
  • Terra #3 of 4, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • The Immortal Iron Fist #20, by Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman & Russ Heath (Marvel)
  • Astonishing X-Men vol 2 HC, by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday (Marvel)
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera #1 of 6, by Kurt Busiek & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #1 of 8, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
  • The Boys #25, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
Astonishing X-Men vol 2 HC I’m not a fan of Joss Whedon. I never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I watched about five episodes of Firefly and though it was awful. I am, however, a big fan of John Cassaday, so I was willing to pick up Astonishing X-Men in collected form to see what it was like.

Whedon’s comics writing reminds me of that of Kevin Smith: Smith’s first series, Daredevil: Guardian Devil felt like a rerun of Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Daredevil: Born Again, and in the same vein, Whedon & Cassaday’s X-Men run feels a lot like Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run. The difference among all these books is that Born Again is one of the all-time great graphic novels, while the rest are fairly derivative works, which means that Whedon’s script feels even more like a “we’ve seen this all before” story than the others, since Morrison’s run was nothing special.

On the other hand, Whedon’s scripts are a hell of a lot funnier than Morrison’s.

This volume starts with Emma Frost being recruited to take down the X-Men by the Hellfire Club, a story which ties back to Morrison’s Cassandra Nova story. This first arc (there are two in this volume) has its tense moments, but when I got to the conclusion I couldn’t figure out what had happened. It felt like Whedon had set things up for a comeback by Cassandra Nova, a vicious powerful telepath, but it doesn’t quite happen, and it’s not clear that the X-Men actually won, either.

The second arc ties together the stories from the first volume: An alien planet named the Breakworld has a prophecy that Colossus will destroy their world, and the X-Men, along with a half-alien special agent named Brand, travel there to hopefully stop it from happening, but in any event stop the Breakworld from sending assassins after them. This story involves the characters breaking up into teams and then running back and forth an awful lot until they have to stop a giant missile aimed at the Earth from destroying it.

While there are many amusing and entertaining scenes in the story, honestly I couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. Why was the Breakworld significant? Why should the prophecy have existed in the first place? Why was there a giant missile aimed at the Earth? It felt highly contrived; my only guess is that the Breakworld and its situation have appeared in X-Men stories before, but geez, I could really care less about all that. The core of the story felt contrived and nonsensical, which undercut its reason for being. It had a big, loud conclusion, as you’d expect, but a deeply bittersweet ending, which unfortunately felt basically out of place, with no lessons learned as a result of it and not enough attention paid to its impact on the characters.

Whedon does do some interesting stuff with the relationship between Cyclops and Emma, and Colossus and Shadowcat, and the Beast and Agent Brand. (Wolverine seems to be present mainly to boost sales and make smart remarks.) And as I said the script is often quite funny. But it feels like too slight a story, a little too pretentious, not to mention portentious.

On the other hand, Cassaday’s artwork is superb, full of shadows and bright colors and dramatic poses and expressions. His backgrounds are sometimes on the thin side (a problem he’s always had, even at his best), but he is still a very good artist, and his work is shown off to good effect in the oversized pages of this hardcover collection.

Nonetheless, this volume and its predecessor are really for serious X-Men fans only.

And Whedon fans too, I guess.

Marvels: Eye of the Camera #1 Marvels was essentially the book that launched Alex Ross’ career, and made Kurt Busiek a big name in the industry. It’s certainly one of the finest comics series of the last 20 years, and since then Busiek has demonstrated that the core genius of the book – depicting a world of superheroes through the eyes of the people living in the world – was his genius, as he’s expanded greatly on that premise in his outstanding Astro City series. While Ross’ illustration skills haven’t dimmed – he still brings the best mix of visual storytelling and painting skills to the table of anyone – his authorial projects have been considerably less interesting.

So seeing Busiek bring us a sequel to Marvels is cause for celebration. Apparently his first proposal for a sequel was eventually turned into the current Astro City: The Dark Age maxi-series, but after much research we now have Eye of the Camera, which opens with the protagonist of the first series – freelance photographer Phil Sheldon – recapping the dawn of the Marvel Age in the 1960s, and then moving into the 1970s where the remainder of the series will take place. As before, Phil both stands in awe and wonder of the heroes, but has a strong melancholy streak, as if ordinary folks like him don’t – can’t – measure up. And this issue ends on a note guaranteed to bring even more melancholy into his life. While mostly rehashing the themes of the first series, this first issue does so quite well and promises new and different material going forward. Busiek has always been keenly aware of the ‘feel’ of comics from different eras, and I have no doubt that he’ll put a spin on 1970s Marvel comics which distinguishes them from the 1960s era.

Ross doesn’t come along for the ride; instead a newcomer (well, new to me anyway), Jay Anacleto, illustrates the book. It has the look of being drawn and shaded, with nuanced color laid over it; not quite painted like Ross, but still more intricate than typical line drawings, even with modern computer coloring. He has Ross’ flair for layouts and playing with color palettes – for example the scenes in Sheldon’s developing studio – but not quite his skills at body or facial expressions. Still, he’s pretty good, and gives the book a distinctive look.

If not quite the revelation that Marvels or Astro City were from their very first issues, Eye of the Camera still has a lot of promise, and perhaps its biggest flaw is that it is, well, a sequel, but one which has to explain its premise for new readers who haven’t read its predecessor. Nonetheless, I have high hopes that the whole package will be a lot of fun.