Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review: Convergence: Shazam #2

The 2nd issue of the pre-Crisis Earth-S Marvel Family micro-series continues the high quality set forth by writer Jeff Parker and artist Doc Shaner in the first issue, but yet isn't quite as satisfying. Part of it is the inherent problem of a company wide crossover event. The first issue was an ideal Captain Marvel story in the style all us fans have been clamoring for.  But issue 2 has to get to the business of conforming to the crossover storyline, making this issue seem a little more forced.  This issue guest stars Batman, and since Batman and Captain Marvel are my two favorite heroes, this should be a great event.  And in a certain way it is... but it's the alternate reality Gotham By Gaslight Batman. It would have been so much better in my eyes if it were a Bob Kane style Golden Age Batman, or a classic Bronze Age Jim Aparo style Batman. Mr Parker and Mr Shaner, how about an issue of Batman 66 guest-starring the Jackson Bostwick/Filmation Captain Marvel, using the Legends of the Superheroes TV specials as the foundation?  Another thing that weighs this issue down is the fact we don't get  Doc Shaner sketches like in the first issue.  Instead it's a sneak peek of an upcoming Constatine book, and a multi-page advertisement for the "New DC Universe", which is really just the same old crappy "New 52" (really, guys... you're not even making the Earth-5 Marvel Family's Thunderworld Adventures an on-going series...epic fail right there). Never the less, Parker and Shaner bring their A game.  Parker continues to get the former Fawcett characters' personalities spot on, and he has a very unique and brilliant inter-transformation scene between Billy and Captain Marvel, that is punctuated by Shaner's artwork. As with issue 1, there are lots of cameos and Easter Eggs. This issue earns an A-.

Review: Batman '66 #23

This issue presents two short stories instead of a book-length one.  First up is the introduction of Solomon Grundy into the 66 Universe. The script, written by Jeff Parker, has Marsha Queen of Diamonds' Aunt Hilda conjuring up one of Marsha's deceased husbands as Grundy.  Being a short story, it is fairly simple and straight forward, and to me, reminds me very much of the simple stories from the Batman coloring books of the era.  The art by Brent Schoonover is excellent, some of the best in this series, and is a homage to Carmine Infantino. 

The second story, also written by Parker, has a lot more to the narrative. It establishes the secret origin of False Face: none other than Basil Karlo, the original comic book Clayface from the 1940s. It turns out False Face didn't wears masks. He ingested a serum that allowed him to morph into anyone one he willed. In hot pursuit of False Face in a swamp area, he ingested an altered version of the serum that radically changed him into the Matt Hagen version of Clayface from the 1950s comics.  This story alludes to a new trophy area in the Batcave, which includes a Joker playing card and a giant penny. The art, by Giancarlo Caracuzo, is good, but a notch below Schoonover's work. This issue earns a B.

Friday, May 1, 2015


Avengers: Age of Ultron is, in short, one great movie. A visual spectacular that deals with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner creating an artificial intelligence lifeform, Ultron, that severly backfires when Ultron decides to wipe out humanity, and the Avengers need to save the world by stopping Ultron and his army of robots. Director Joss Whedon brought back what worked and fixed the problems the first movie had. Gone was the slower paced first hour the primary film suffered. This one starts with an amazing action sequence, and things only get better from there. All the action scenes are highlights, and unlike the Nolan-Snyder approach, are fun and colorful and still convey danger and thrills. Another flaw in the first film was that many scenes happened on a SHIELD aircraft, giving the movie, at times, an almost made-for-television feel.  The sequel avoids such a contrivance, yet still has quieter character scenes that match the big budget spectacle of the action scenes. Stand out moments include the Avengers' party, that concludes with everyone trying to lift Thor's hammer, and the banter between the various characters, such as everyone ragging on Captain America after he tells Iron Man to watch his language during the film's first sequence.

All of the actors return to their respective roles. Chris Hemsworth, who kind of phoned in his performance in the lackluster Thor: The Dark World, redeems himself with a stellar performance. Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johanson, and Mark Ruffalo all continue with great performances as their characters.   Jeremy Renner, who was kind of the odd man out in the first movie, shines here as Hawkeye in character scenes, and if Tony Stark is the brains, Thor the might, and Steve Rogers the soul, you could say Clint Barton is the heart of the Avengers. Three new major characters are introduced: The Vision, played by Paul Bettany, The Scarlet Witch, played by the Olsen Twins' younger sister Elizabeth, and Quicksilver, played by Aaron Taylor Johnson. Of the three, I thought Scarlet Witch had the best portrayal, perhaps due to Whedon's credentials in similar characters dating back to his Buffy The Vampire Slayer years. Quicksilver has a pivotal scene, where as the movie seems to be setting up Hawkeye for a heroic final fate, only to give us a "you didn't see that coming" swerve, that needless to say, means Quicksilver may now be the sole property of the X Men franchise.  Ironically, as good as Johnson was as Quicksilver, I thought Evan Peters' competing portrayal in X Men: Days of Future Past was slightly better, and the film effects of his speed were better realised (and I'm saying this as someone who isn't a big fan of the X Men franchise). The film ends with the founding Avengers moving on, leaving Captain America and Black Widow to train a new incarnation of the team consisting of the Vision, Scarlet Witch, the Falcon, and War Machine.

I've always been a DC guy. But I have to say the Marvel Cinematic Universe is getting it right. I kind of fear for the upcoming Batman v Superman and Justice League movies because the powers-that-be at DC/WB have lost sight of what a superhero movie could be. Colors are washed out, everything is taken to a level of seriousness one would expect from a documentary on the Holocaust.  The fun has been sucked out. The Marvel Cinematic Universe remembers that superheroes could be fun. Avengers: Age of Ultron squeaks in just below Captain America: The Winter Soldier as the second best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date.