Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Weekly Chain Reaction: April 1, 2009

Before I reel in my Internets for the next two weeks, here are some brief reviews of last week’s comics. I’ll save that full-length review of Seaguy until the series is complete.

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The Amazing Spider-Man #590, by Dan Slott, Barry Kitson, et al. Mr. Slott and Mr. Kitson turn in a story with a perfectly generic superhero plot and focus on the same. It’s not a very solid superhero plot, mind you; it requires half the book’s cast to act like morons half the time. To make matters worse, the story is bogged down in the lingering stench of “One More Day,” the storyline that failed to put a lid on “married Spider-Man” a year or so back. On the plus side, there’s a nice little two-page sequence with the Looter.

(Marvel Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: C-

* * *

Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1 (One-Shot), by James Robinson, Marcos Martin, et al. Steve Rogers, right after being rejected by the U.S. Army, accidentally runs into a dying secret agent, single-handedly takes out two Nazi spies—by using a thrash-can lid as a shield, among other things—and, by sheer coincidence, ends up saving the super-soldier serum that later, wink wink, nudge nudge, turns him into Captain America. If the story were at least aware of its own silliness, there might be some charm to the whole affair. I still recommend buying the comic, though, just for Marcos Martin’s double-page splash with Rogers walking through a bustling Manhattan street. It’s, hands down, the most beautiful piece of comics art I’ve seen this year, and it looks like it jumped right out of a John Dos Passos novel. Mr. Martin’s Steve Rogers seems more anorexic than scraggy, but for those fantastic two pages worth of 1930s New York City, it’s all forgiven.

(Marvel Comics, 23 pages plus reprints, $ 3.99)

Grade: D+

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The Flash: Rebirth #1, by Geoff Johns, Ethan van Sciver, et al. This is one of those awkward superhero comics that mistake extensive nostalgic waxing—both in dialogue and in external monologues—for proper storytelling. Nothing in the story means anything to me, and it’s my own fault: because Barry Allen is back as the Flash, and it is good and proper for me to be deeply familiar with the character and care about his return by default, no further effort on the writer’s part required. Mr. Van Sciver tries and fails to draw the first few bloody pages from the perspective of a first-person shooter video game, meanwhile. I’m just a fly on the windshield of this comic.

(DC Comics, 30 pages, $ 3.99)

Grade: D

* * *

Invincible Iron Man #12, by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, et al. Mr. Fraction goes a little overboard trying to sell Norman Osborn as an evil bastard, to the point where it hurts the story’s verisimilitude. Other than that, though, Invincible Iron Man remains a well-refined, jolly good time of a comic. The creators deliver an intense Iron Man/Namor brawl, and the series’ various plot threads are now forming a noose around Tony Stark’s neck. Mr. Fraction and Mr. Larroca even manage to make the Controller seem genuinely creepy.

(Marvel Comics, 24 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: B-

* * *

Irredeemable #1, by Mark Waid, Peter Krause, et al. It’s 1992 all over again: Irredeemable, another muddled and paper-thin post-Watchmen thing, somewhat helplessly tries to impress its audience by being more brutal and violent than the competition. There’s no substance whatsoever, and even the basic storytelling is unusually shoddy by Mr. Waid’s standards: Who on earth thought it was a good idea to introduce a four-page flashback sequence with a big whopping banner saying “ONE WEEK LATER”…? The part that makes Irredeemable an especially frustrating experience, through, is the cranky “Afterword” by Grant Morrison, who spends his waking days getting mad at the Internet now. Due respect, gentlemen: It would behoove the both of you to worry less about being unfairly typecast and more about imbuing your characters with something resembling a personality.

(Boom! Studios, 23 pages, $ 3.99)

Grade: D

* * *

Jersey Gods #3, by Glen Brunswick, Mark Waid, Dan McDaid, Joe Infurnari, et al. Only a quarter of the book’s 28 pages deals with Zoe, the female lead down in New Jersey; the other 21 are filled with more generic, fairly boring Kirby fan fiction by Mr. Brunswick and Mr. Waid. It looks good, certainly—Mr. McDaid’s work gets better with every issue. But the way this is going, the creators can scratch the “Jersey” from the title by issue #5. Isn’t the point of doing a romantic comedy to show some interaction between the two lead characters?

(Image Comics, 28 pages, $ 3.50)

Grade: C

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Preacher #1 Special Edition, by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, et al. I’ve read bits and pieces of Preacher, but never the whole thing. This debut issue, originally released in 1995 and now reprinted by DC as part of its “After Watchmen” promotion, is a bit of a disappointment. It’s not the finely tuned knockout I expected—neither the writing nor the artwork are as tight and to the point as the creators’ later work. That said, it’s still a pretty good comic, and it did make me chuckle a few times. At 40 story pages per dollar, it’s also just about the best value for money in the market.

(DC Comics/Vertigo, 40 pages, $ 1.00)

Grade: B

* * *

Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye #1 (of 3), by Grant Morrison, Cameron Stewart, et al. Has it really been five years? Intellectually, the second act of the Seaguy saga is every bit as ingenious, multi-layered and creative as the first one, judging from this opening chapter. But whereas the first series was driven by a whimsical lead character on an irresistible quest, this story’s Seaguy is rather less compelling: He’s passive, has grown a double chin and spends most of the comic sulking. Since that’s clearly part of the plan, though, I’m not that worried about it yet. All of the involved creators seem on form here, and the result is a delightful read.

(DC Comics/Vertigo, 32 pages, $ 3.99)

Grade: B

* * *

And with that, I’m signing off for the time being. In the meantime, feel free to read my review of the film Knowing and watch Heidi’s place for the latest DC Comics sales column, which should be up sometime next week. See ya.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Knowing (Film)

Escape Artists/Summit Entertainment, 121 minutes

Director: Alex Proyas
Writers: Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury, Lara Robinson, et al.

Can you predict the future? Do you hear voices in your head? Are you prone to scratching numbers into desktops and doors with your fingers until they are bloody?

If your answer to these questions is “no,” then you are not among the chosen. You are doomed to perish with the rest of us, in an apocalypse that may be coming sooner than you think. That is, if you believe Knowing, a science-fiction thriller by director Alex Proyas.

The film invokes an intriguing question: Is the world predetermined, or is it random? Rather than to engage the issue, however, Mr. Proyas smothers it in a preposterous hodgepodge of pseudo-science, biblical allusions and assembly-line mystery elements.

Knowing’s hero is widower and single dad John Koestler. An astrophysicist wrestling with the concept of predetermination since his wife died in a tragic accident, Koestler is portrayed by Nicolas Cage as a loving, generically sullen and absentminded father.

Through his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), Koestler comes in possession of a coded message written in 1959, which seems to predict many disasters of the last 50 years. When Koestler decodes the message, three more are left, resulting in a frantic race against time.

Nominally, Rose Byrne and Lara Robinson are the film’s female co-stars, but the chief contribution of their characters is to complicate the plot in the second half—a function which might also have been served by, say, a really big rock.

Knowing is not without its moments. The first few minutes, set in 1959, succeed in creating tension and setting an eerie and thrilling tone. Some of the disasters portrayed in the film are intense and real enough to make you reconsider ever boarding another plane or subway train.

But the longer the plot grinds on, the more absurd and eye-rollingly corny the film becomes. For instance, the characters are stalked by a group of strangers who don’t speak, but point at things a lot, and whose looks and poses bring to mind every dark-wave music video that ever ran on MTV in the 1980s. It takes effort to stifle a groan whenever they appear.

In a particularly bad scene, Koestler—or is that Cage?—blanks out during a lecture on the subject of predetermination; he then confesses to his students his personal belief on the issue, which is that “shit just happens.” Sometimes, evidently, so do movies.

Grade: D+

Off the Grid

Starting on Sunday, I’ll be on the road and off the grid for two weeks, touring California, Nevada and Arizona in a car as big as a house and spending all my money on gas, cheap accommodations and local food and alcoholic beverages.

I’ll try to squeeze in this week’s reviews, but no promises—there’s a lot of stuff out this week that merits its own full-length review (Seaguy!), so I’ll probably get to that once I’m back and caught up. I will, however, turn in the DC Comics sales column in the next couple of days before I leave.

In the meantime, if anyone’s got any recommendations for good places to eat and drink in San Francisco and Las Vegas (or, for that matter, Seattle and Chicago, where I’ll be touching down next month for a few days each before jumping back over the big pond), I’m all ears!