Station #1 Review

I saw a few interesting things today as I went to my LCS (local comics shop). Firstly, there were a few more people there than usual, which was fantastic. I guess most of them heard about the place from the Supanova expo. I love it when people discover comics for the first time. I firmly believe that there is a comic, or series, or writer, or artist out there for everybody. You just gotta find it. Secondly, I saw Supanova’s guest artists, Howard Chaykin and Joe Jusko there too, chatting it up with the employees and getting there photos taken. Topics discussed included TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno’s lactating nipples and Punisher War Journal’s Jigsaw story arc conclusion coming in September. (Click here for the alternate cover. You’ll go ape for it!) But comics are a minefield. Many of my friends feel initially daunted when going to the LCS for the first time. Where’s the latest Superman issue? What are all these surnames doing on the covers? What in the world is a TPB? It’s a confusing world. Well, fear not, I’m here to help. Starting from the review below, I’ll be attempting to guide you through the muddy waters of the comic book universe. Look for new pages, and a new category, entitled, New To Comics? for articles and reviews for the newbie. By the way, TPB is a Trade Paper Back, a hard cover collection of a previously published series, much like a DVD box set of a TV show you’ve seen before, but with extras and no ads. See, you’re learning already.

Space is a great setting for stories beyond straight sci-fi. Films like the original Alien, Solaris and last year’s Sunshine showed us that it isn’t always extra terrestrials that are the greatest threat. Paranoia and claustrophobia can play their part in creating terror too. With astronauts cut off from their loved ones and the strange sensation of zero gravity, normality is thrown out the window.

Station from relatively new publisher, BOOM! Studios’ continues this tradition. The first issue of a four part monthly series kicks things off with a bang. Well, not a bang really, but an immediate sense of desperation.

The international space station is a gleaming example of scientific advancement and a unified humanity. That is until the latest batch of multi-national astronauts take up residence in its cramped quarters.

It’s not long before Nicolay the cosmonaut is murdered. Not in a brutal manner, but certainly an effective one; rendered with such despair as he floats away. Dedicating two pages of almost blackness to this pivotal plot point works extremely well. Nicolay is captured by the endless space, and there is nothing his colleagues can do but watch his terrified face get further and further away. Nicolay’s death was, of course, no accident, and of all the people on the station, his work was the apparently the most earth changing.

As Dr Karen James, one of the astronauts remarks, “That’s the thing about being on a space station. There’s no place to hide. Everything comes to the surface sooner or later.” And it appears the murderer on board has only just begun their work.

Writer Johanna Stokes comes from TV, and her character work here is excellent. With only three issues left to tell this story, she has her work cut out for her, but she’s off to an intriguing start. At this point, the killer could be anyone. There are genuine chills here with a moody pace. Leno Carvalho’s artwork fits well in this context. Realistic in the style of Ultimates artist Bryan Hitch with a mix of 90s Aquaman penciller Jim Calafiore, with a good eye for the technical details of the station and the expressions of the increasingly desperate people aboard it. A whodunit in a floating sardine can is a brilliant premise. So far this series lives up to it.

TobyMac: Alive and Transported DVD/CD

TobyMac LivedcTalk helped me become a Christian. I used to mock their cheesy and outdated Christian Television Association ads over a decade ago, then I saw their Welcome to the Freak Show live concert on VHS and couldn’t believe they were a Christian band. Surely Christian music had guys in braces playing harps and singing, “Hallelujah,” all the time. Right? Wrong-thankfully. I loved that album and listened to the tape so many times I destroyed it. Then when Jars of Clay, Newsboys and delirious came along all my misconceptions about Christianity were swept away. Contemporary Christian music has been an integral part of my life since.

dcTalk’s last album of new material, 1998’s Supernatural, was certainly a fitting swansong from the groundbreaking boys, and the demand for an immediate re-union was high. I don’t think many people expected TobyMac to be the most successful solo artist after the split. With the soaring voices of Michael Tait and Kevin Max “that guy that does all the rapping” had to work hard to get noticed. But he did, and it paid off.

With his three solo albums (Momentum, Welcome to Diverse City and Portable Sounds) each better than the last, and his own label Gotee Records, he continues to shine in the hip-hop arena.

Alive and Transported is his first live DVD/CD. He looks as young and as energetic as he did when he first made an impression on me all those years ago. With the hits from his albums, plus dcTalk’s anthem, Jesus Freak, this 20 song collection won’t allow you to stop grooving. The CD and DVD collect the same songs, but the DVD has a nifty bonus; an almost one hour long doco on the man himself as he discusses life, touring, family and the sometimes mundane, sometimes extraordinary ways he met his current band mates. Toby’s voice sounds more powerful than ever and he never loses a beat throughout the concert’s entirety on memorable beats like Boomin’, Made To Love and Extreme Days. It must be exhausting, but moved by the adoration of the huge crowd and his passion for Christ, the guys just keeps rocking, and rapping. It doesn’t have the fancy multimedia of a U2 show, or the fancy footwork of a Justin Timberlake show, but these guys (and girl) know how to party.

The DVD needs big speakers and a big TV to really show the power and enthusiasm coming from the stage. The editing adds much colour and motion to the event and it is a feast for your eyes as well as ears. Though he has had moderate success in the mainstream music scene, with songs being used in TV ads and films, Toby doesn’t shy away from his Christian roots. He’s not ashamed of the gospel, and like his friend and collaborator, the equally awesome Kirk Franklin, he spills out spiritual authenticity along with his creativity. One of the greatest blessings of being a believer is that we have music like this, that honours God and gets your body moving.
And, just so you know, I used one of his songs on the Supanova Perth video seen below. Like me, you may just be surprised that there’s no harps and Hallelujahs here, but you won’t be disappointed. Give it a shot.

Supanova Perth

The geek trumpet sounded this weekend in the most isolated city in the world, and the geeks answered. And how. I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. The Supanova pop culture convention has been successfully operating on the other side of Australia for a few years now. (I went to the Gold Coast one in 2004) but I wasn’t sure how many people would turn up in little old Perth. I was pleasantly surprised. On the train to Claremont in the morning, I saw a few girls befriending each other as one of them boldly got into (some kind of anime) costume. That put a smile on my face, along with a few other commuters. My joy grew further as the train stopped and a gaggle of geeks departed. Though, none of them looked like geeks. We marched noisily through the eerily departed Showgrounds towards the convention site and got on the end of a queue. We weren’t there for long though and thankfully the rain didn’t intrude. The number of people in costumes was quite inspiring. Apart from a few Naruto and Star Wars get-ups, I didn’t know who most of the characters were. That cos-play craze is getting everywhere these days.

Supanova Stamp

We then got our wrists stamped, like some underground disco, except, it was in the daylight and no-one could dance. I spent three hours there doing laps and inspecting the goods. Games, old and new comics, action figures, busts, novelties and DVDs were all well represented. Both on-line and inter-state retail outlets had a presence and Perth’s comic and toy shops managed to make their presence known to new customers. Hellboy 2 trailers were looping, and the new Indy Jones Lego, Dragonball Z and Metal Gear Solid games had many thumbs and fingers delving into their worlds. I didn’t stay long enough to see Star Trek and Heroes actor, Nichelle Nichols and I wasn’t really interested in talking to the Stargate and Firefly actors either. I waited about 30 minutes to get painter Joe Jusko to sign my X-Men print, but saw him do two great Hulk sketches as I did so. Jusko’s almost as buff as the characters he draws. I mentioned that I had his Fleer trading cards from back in the day and he said he’s been singing those his whole life. Howard Chaykin signed all 6 issues of my City of Tomorrow mini-series and my Hawkgirl TPB. He was a funny guy and was firing one-liners to everyone he saw. He, Jusko, local lad Ben Templesmith and David Yardin all looked like they were having fun chatting to fans and talking about their work. I didn’t buy much as I must save up for next month’s San Diego Comic-Con, but I easily could of. At least I ended the day with a free coffee.

All in all, a good day. The future of pop culture fandom is in safe hands in Perth. Most of the gathering were high school kids and there was a general excitement in having that many people loving the same thing, in the same place. Next year’s will surely be better, now that it’s off to a good start. Next month I’ll be going to the world’s largest comic convention in San Diego. It’ll be like going from a paddling pool to the Pacific Ocean I’m sure. This is a nice warm-up though. Perth fanboys and girls-you can pat yourself on the back. You did us proud.

Artist Michael Turner Dead

The global comics community is still small enough that writers and artists who I’ve never met, somehow seem like old friends. I grew up reading artist Mike Wieringo’s fun and energetic pencils on Flash and Spider-Man and when he died last year, I was quite emotional. I felt the same way upon discovering Michael Turner’s death. His pencils on the new Supergirl’s introduction in the pages of Superman/Batman re-energized me about the DC Comics Universe. His covers have been seen everywhere over the last few years from Identity Crists to Marvel’s powerhouse Civil War. You noticed his work on the stands, and with his own studio, Aspen Comics and properties like Fathom, his creative output for a man suffering from cancer since 2000 is extraordinary and a testament to his dedication.

Condolences be sent to:

Aspen MLT, Inc.
C/O Michael Turner
5855 Green Valley Circle, Suite 111
Culver City, CA, 90230

Revere Trailer

The comic biz is a hard one to break into. Most small publishers know that to compete directly with the Big Two (Marvel and DC) is foolishness, but their superhero stranglehold is fandom’s gain, as we get diverse publishers like ASP. Though they are (openly) in the midst of a restructure at the moment, some of their best books continue, including The Engineer and Mouse Guard. I can’t wait for the next ish of Miranda Mercury to arrive though. Revere: Revolution in Silver is an interesting concept involving the American Revolution and a bunch of scary looking werewolves. You can see what I mean by checking out the trailer, and it comes with a great tagline: Yes, the British are coming. But the werewolves are worse.

Nice one.

REVERE: REVOLUTION IN SILVER is a 128 page hardcover collecting the four-issue series originally published by Alias, with an expanded ending and epilogue.

Tori Amos’ Comic Book Tattoo

Kiss have done it (a few times). So has Alice Cooper, even New Kids on the Block. Now it’s Tori Amos’ turn. That’s right – musos and comics. What a combo! Almost as good as my favourite mix-up, chocolate and coffee. Mmm…mocha. Comic Book Tattoo is a massive 480 page anthology book, releasing on the 23rd of July. An impressive roster of 80 creators including David Mack, Colleen Doran, Pia Guerra and Jock expand upon Tori’s stable of songs in their own style. Long-time fan and Sandman creator Neil Gaiman scribes the introduction. Official details here, and more perty pics here.

X-Men and the Power of Community

You’ve seen the sketch variants for the 500th issue below, now you can see a few interior pages right here, free of those annoying words that only get in the way. The crowded cover is also quite appropriate to my newest article, now on Sight magazine. It’s all about the power of community, and that is one thing comics are certainly not short of. To teams of side-kicks (Teen Titans) to magicians (Shadowpact) reformed villains (Thunderbolts) kids (Runaways) and chemical compounds come to life (Metal Men) there’s a team for everyone.

Sometimes we may think that life would be better without all those people that are slightly different from us (especially if you work in retail!) but honestly, those people help us grow. When others rub us the wrong way, sure, sparks can fly, but like sharpening knives, you end up with a sharper, more useful instrument. Wow, deep. Anyway, read on….

The X-Men, Fantastic Four, Justice League, The Avengers, The Outsiders, Teen Titans, Green Lantern Corps. The list goes on and on.

The team concept is one of the comic industry’s best sellers and will undoubtedly continue to be. With extra characters come extra story possibilities due to all the varied interactions and personality clashes. Marvel’s Punisher would be the most obvious anti-team player in comic books. He sees himself as a hero; a man picking up the slack of the paltry legal system, whereas DC’s Batman has often worked with the Gotham City Police Department. The Punisher sees himself as the only man worthy to dispense justice. All of his rage and frustration spews forth from his fists and gun barrels. Batman knows that in order to dispense true justice, his methods and motivations must be in direct contrast to the odd assortment of criminals he fights.

Both men are self-made warriors, soldiers of immense focus and endurance. But they see the world and their place in it very differently. And it stems from the people they have around them, or the lack of, in Punisher’s case. If it were not for Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s English butler, the young orphan could easily have turned in to a mirror image of the Punisher. Frank Castle had no-one to offer him guidance and comfort , but Bruce Wayne had someone to at least tell him right from wrong, a father figure in the shape of a loyal servant. Alfred’s influence on the identity of Bruce Wayne can not be understated. He has also offered the various Robins over the years the kindness and moral support that Batman never could, or wanted to.
Pennyworth’s inner light has always cast a strong influence over the Wayne mansion, and the cave underneath it. To the church in Corinth, Paul advised that “bad company corrupts good character.” Bad guys rarely hang out together. Dirty deeds are done in the dark, alone, not in the light with others. In his letters to other churches Paul’s frustrations showed to the early church. They were easily being led astray. Lack of unity and leadership made these churches all too vulnerable. Paul took charge, and left for us a treasure trove of godly advice regarding everything from marriage to finances. The epistles are an amazing account of practical Christianity and down- to-earth spiritual wisdom.

We often hear that people lose their virginity too early or become drug takers simply because of peer pressure. Similarly, others attribute their run-ins with the law to “falling in with a bad crowd.” But the opposite can also be true.

With the proper influence and good examples to follow we can become holy people; God pleasers rather than only people pleasers. Heroes such as the X-Men Rogue, Psylocke and Gambit were once villains, but were then reformed by Professor X. Nightcrawler was raised by his mother, the villainous shape-shifter Mystique yet also joined the heroic X-Men. However other characters such as Sinestro started life as a member of the galactic peace keeping force Green Lantern Corps, yet left and became evil. Each day we make choices for good or evil. So too we must choose our friends and their influence over us with Godly wisdom. God has created the church as a community. We are all different parts of the same body. Within that body we can offer help and support to one another. Sometimes being heroic means not only helping others, but also asking for help from those around you when you need it.

Xanadu’s X-Men Squadron

Don’t worry if that title doesn’t make sense. It will.

Madame Xanadu is a classic DC Comics character who has come back in to a sort of prominence in the last few years. She’s a powerful, blind sorceress, and now she has a new limited series written by Matt Wagner (creator of Mage and Grendel) and pencilled by the creator of the manga, Fool’s Gold, Amy Reeder Hadley. Hadley is a newcomer to mainstream comics like this, but her work as seen in this 6 page preview is absolutely luscious. She has that clean, wispy style reminiscent of Fables cover artists James Jean. The story is tailored towards mature readers and with the subject matter covering tarot reading and the like, it’s obviously not going to be for everyone. But that has always been DC’s strength over Marvel – their diversity, as seen in their Vertigo line of books that are an intriguing haven to readers who prefer to steer clear of all those crazy superheroes.

It’s no surprise that Wolverine is the most popular X-Man. He’s tough, has a great costume, mysterious past and a bad attitude. The short Canadian gets his own film soon, with the spinoff currently shooting with Hugh Jackman as the hairy anti-hero. Now it’s time for him to get animated. I fondly recall the X-Men’s cartoon series in the early 90s, trying to watch as much as I could before I had to leave for school, and a surprising number of people first became aware of Marvel’s mutant team through it, before the first film adaptation in 2000. The ‘toon was surprisingly faithful to the comics, often using direct plots from the most well loved stories, it was chock full of guest stars and had a catchy theme tune. The new series, entitled Wolverine and the X-Men won’t air until next year, but those hard core fans (such as myself!) who are going to the San Diego Comic-Con next month will see the three part premiere. For now, the new trailer will have to suffice. It looks action packed and has the usual faves such as Rogue, Colossus, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Iceman and even White Queen. With Professor X out of the picture, it’s up to Wolvie to lead the way. Go Wolvie!

And finally, the squadron part of the title. Writer/artist Howard Chaykin discusses the Squadron Supreme, Ultimate Nick Fury (that guy in the Iron Man film cameo!) and other stuff on Marvel’s latest podcast. It’s an interesting chat and at least now I know what Chaykin sounds like before I (hopefully) get to meet him this weekend at the Supanova convention in Perth.

Uncanny X-Men #500

500 is a number worth celebrating, especially in the comics world. Marvel have given us two sketch variants for this milestone, rather than risking a fire by trying to light 500 candles. One is from one of the best lady-pencillers in the biz, Terry Dodson. (Drool at his work here)

… and one is from prolific cover artist Michael Turner. (More drooling to be had here.)

And if that wasn’t enough Alex Ross and Greg Land also offer up wraparound covers. Now for the rest of the info: Featuring the debut of the series’ new writing team, Eisner-winner Ed Brubaker and Eisner-nominee Matt Fraction, and the series’ superstar art team, Greg Land and Dodson, this is the issue that no X-Fan can afford to miss as X-Men: Manifest Destiny begins! This extra-sized anniversary issue kicks off with a longer lead story as the X-Men adjust to their new home in San Francisco , but soon find a familiar face threatening their new beginning! How do the Sentinels, Magneto and Master Mold tie into all this? Find out in Uncanny X-Men #500!

The X-books often bring out the best in creators (as you can see above) and this historic issue may just be the place to get familiar with some ol’ mutant mates.

Definitely, Maybe-Certainly

I hate most rom-coms (um, romantic comedies-yeah) My house-mate loves them and put on Fool’s Gold recently. I gave it twenty minutes and could stomach no more. Most are bland, predictable and written for 11 year olds. The quirky cast of supporting characters, the lame physical comedy, the same upbeat strings on the soundtrack, the break-up, misunderstandings, new partners followed by jealousy, the dash for the airport. This genre is the most formulaic in all of Hollywood. The only films that can beat them for mindless entertainment would be anything starring a Van Damme or a Seagal. However, sometimes, we need good old fashioned mind numbing, don’t we? After a long day at work we can plonk ourselves in our fave chair, press play and expect happy endings and pretty people to wash over us for the next 90 minutes. I just try not to make a habit out of it. I will say though, I loved The Notebook (perhaps the only film that guys can admit they cried to) and adored Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset films. I didn’t expect much with this latest Ryan Reynolds vehicle, though he was in Blade: Trinity and was the forerunner for Wally West in The Flash film, so he’s got geek cred in my book.

The premise is this: Ryan is getting divorced from his daughter’s (Abigail Breslin) mother and tells her the story of the three most important romances in his life, leaving her to guess which one is her Mum, with the choices being Rachel Weisz, Elizabeth Banks and my fellow Aussie, Isla Fisher. Well written and directed by Albert Brooks, the film gives you enough reasons to like each of the three female leads and also enough reason to want the final outcome to not be them. It’s a delicate balancing act with a few surprises thrown in. All the characters are fully developed, with intelligent engaging dialogue, rather than the usual fluff that spout forth from rom-com leads. Fisher is the highlight of the cast. She just can’t seem to turn off the cutesy charm no matter what role she’s in. The final scenes offer nice icing on the cake. I stayed through the whole film, so that’s high praise indeed. It only ventures toward typical territory of this genre in two early scenes involving slow clapping and rowdy singing, but it isn’t a comedy as such, more of a drama. The flashbacks will be a nice bonus for Gen Xers too, with familiar 90s staples such as brick mobile phones, Cobain and Clinton. Definitely, Maybe is a nice breath of fresh, minty air in a crowded shelf of feel-good movies.

Tropic Thunder Promo

This looks like it could be a funny film. Ben Stiller stars as action man Tug Speedman, Jack Black is the funny guy Jeff “Fats” Portnoy and an unrecognisable Robert Downey Jr portrays the award winning Aussie, Kirk Lazarus. From the names alone its obvious this film will be mocking blockbuster conventions.

The somewhat unique set-up is this; the three actors are making a Vietnam war film when their director (Steve Coogan) gets fed up with their antics and drops them off in a real war zone, without telling them.The “viral video” was shown at this year’s MTV Movie Awards. It goes for childish humour, but it works. Jack Black is always funny (apart from Nacho Libre) and Downey Jr continues to surprise us. It seems that there’s no genre he can’t be seen in. Stiller directs and co-writes the film and it’s due for release on August 15. There is also an R-rated “redband” trailer which looks quite bloody. Hopefully what we’ve seen thus far is just a promise of more laughs to come.

The (not-so) Incredible Hulk

Well, it was better than the first Hulk film in 2003, but that’s not saying much. Director Louis Leterrier’s re-boot is certainly closer to the comics version of the Green Goliath, but it is still lacking in key areas. The action has been ramped up, with lots of running, and some light humour, in the first few scenes. We find Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) working in a Brazilian bottling factory, trying to stay off the military’s radar as General Ross (William Hurt) becomes increasingly desperate in his attempts to reclaim the Hulk as a U.S weapon. Bruce can’t contain his inner beast for too long though, despite his love for Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and his various breathing exercises. When the military first strike, Banner loses control and the Hulk makes his fearsome presence known. Throwing around people and machinery with reckless abandonment it becomes clear that Banner’s alter ego is a monster uncaged. This introduction is repeated throughout the film, becoming blander each time it does. We see Banner attempting a new cure, we see the military find him, we see a chase, we see a fight between them, we see Banner find solace in Betty’s arms. And on it goes.

Star Norton had a much publicised re-write on this film from Zak Penn’s original screenplay, but I would have been intrigued to see the initial script. With all of the main characters whispering throughout the entirety of the film, and many long pauses, it seems the film makers couldn’t decide what kind of film they were making. Too bad this is released after Iron Man. That film has spoiled us rotten. We now expect more from our superheroic screen adventures and this one lets us down. No real characterisation to speak of and the acting is surprisingly dull, but it all looks good of course.

However, the film is not a total waste. It gets some things right, mainly the final fight scene between Hulk and Emil Blonsky AKA The Abomination (Tim Roth) It really is an epic encounter torn straight from the comics page, and Blonsky’s motivation as an old warhorse eager for new glory days is a good one. Comics fans like myself will also be pleased with numerous Marvel references, such as the spy organisation, S.H.I.E.L.D, Hulk’s sonic hand clap, the super soldier programme (which gives birth to Captain America), the Mr Blue sub-plot and the Hulk’s classic catch cry, “Hulk Smash!” (uttered by TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno). And as a special treat they’ve given us a final scene to warm our hearts – a Tony Stark AKA Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) cameo to begin tieing all Marvel’s films together for the Avengers film coming our way in 2011. The way is left clear for a sequel and further cameos. Marvel Studios are obviously confident that they will be making films for some time to come, and I hope they do. If another Hulk film does come our way I’d suggest ditching the brainless brute Hulk version and delving in to the comics archives for a look at writer Peter David’s excellent work. For this franchise to thrive, it needs a smart Hulk, one that can communicate beyond grunts and one that can surprise movie goers who are looking for more than yet another action flick.

Bourne’s Xbox Biffo

I thought I’d treat myself (for no discernible reason) and buy the latest official Oz Xbox mag this week. I only ever buy mags with demo discs attached. It’s quicker than downloading off Xbox Live and it’s a good way of seeing if the game may be purchase-worthy. Apart from a gloriously huge Gears of War 2 poster and the latest on the new Prince of Persia and Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe game (please God, let me play a DC game that isn’t a shocker) it also has a nice article on Star Wars: The Force Unleashed which will allow us to play as ol’ Vader himself. With this much destruction, it might be even more fun than the Lego game. Hurling stormtroopers around and using the Force in unexpected ways will bring no end of mischievous pleasure I’m sure.

The disc’s trailers aren’t that inspiring, nor is the Kung Fu Panda game. Army of Two may be worth closer inspection, but the highlight is the Bourne Conspiracy demo, with three frenetic levels. No Matt Damon to be seen here, but the game looks familiar to fans of the cinematic trilogy. All the biffo and chop socky is perty darn cool. You start off using your various appendages in a way I haven’t seen before; a combination of context sensitive button mashing, cut scenes and adrenaline meter filling which allows take downs of your opponent. The next level gives you guns. You are able to crouch, but it’s frustratingly limiting, unlike Gears of War where you can still move around cover while crouched. The final demo level reminded me of Midtown Madness 3 on the old school Xbox. Driving like a lunatic, but having fun while doing so. I might have to get this game, but I can wait till prices drop. I don’t know if I can say that when September brings Force Unleashed though. Perhaps an early Christmas treat to myself?

It had to be done

Well I guess it was only a matter of time. It’s not like the world needs yet another blog, especially one from a comic book junkie, but I could resist no longer! I used to be the Comics Editor for Infuze, a great little on-line pop culture mag, but that went belly up (not my fault!) It was a tremendous blessing and gave me the opportunity to let people in on the world’s best kept secret – comics rock! I now pull similar duties over at Sight magazine, but I crave more, so here we are, with me rambling, and you reading. Stay tuned.