Thursday, September 29, 2011

Drugs, Math, and SCIENCE!

From the September issue of Bazooka Magazine:

Since it’s a well-documented anecdotal fact that most welfare recipients are drug dealers who abuse the system so they can buy gold teeth and new rims without having to get a real job, it’s fairly common to hear people (and by “people,” I mean “morons”) suggesting that we could save a lot of tax money if we’d just ignore that pesky Fourth Amendment and drug test people who receive government assistance. If the test comes back positive, we can save money by cutting them off and letting their kids starve. That’ll learn ‘em!

Not surprisingly, Florida--consistent winner of the “State Our Nation Is Most Embarrassed By” award--had instituted just such a policy. The drug testing started earlier this year and the state predicts that the program will cost around $178 million annually. The result? A whopping 2% of the tests have been positive and another 2% didn’t complete the application process “for unspecified reasons” (no doubt they got trapped under a mountain of gold chains and car stereo equipment). According to the Tampa Tribune’s Jenée Desmond-Harris, the state will save somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,800-$60,000 per year on rejected applicants.

Keep in mind that drug testing only shows whether someone has taken drugs in some specified period of time (which varies depending on the drug being tested for). It does not differentiate between someone who took drugs once (possibly weeks before they found themselves in need of government assistance) and habitual users. It also doesn’t reveal whether the person being tested uses alcohol, so those who abuse alcohol (and in all likelihood those who abuse legal drugs that have been prescribed to them by a doctor) will get a pass. Furthermore, testing doesn’t guarantee that a single drug dealer is caught (especially if he follows NWA’s advice that dealers should abstain from the drug in which they trade).

Another problem with drug tests is the fact that they aren’t 100% accurate. According to Dr. Dwight Smith of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Black Hills, South Dakota, 5%-10% of positive drug test results are false positives (positive results even though the test subject has not taken any drugs). The rate of false negatives (negative results when the person being tested has taken drugs) is even higher, at 10%-15%. And those are averages. Tests for specific drugs tend to be more accurate, while those that attempt to test for a broad spectrum of drugs (like the ones Florida is administering) are generally less accurate.

If all the percentages and numbers make it hard to get a clear picture of exactly how pointless Florida’s drug testing program is, you’re in luck, because I have a tortured analogy! Let’s say that I’ve just invented a new electric border fence that periodically scans for people trying to cross it. Even better, it can use cutting edge SCIENCE! to determine whether the person trying to cross it is an illegal immigrant. If so, the fence emits a deadly electric shock. Of course, it does have a few bugs. Here are its performance specs:
  • In an average day, the fence scans roughly 2,000 times.
  • Of those 2,000 scans, 1720 of them happen when there is nobody trying to cross the fence (at a cost of about $30 a pop).
  • 240 times a day there will be illegals crossing the fence, but the scanners will somehow fail to pick them up.
  • Each day, 40 illegal immigrants will see the fence and decide to stay in Mexico.
  • 37 times a day, the scanners will electrocute an illegal immigrant who is trying to TAKE OUR JOBS!
  • Three times a day, the illegal alien detection technology fails and and electrocutes American citizen (probably an adorable child) standing near the fence.
So, at the end of the day, my awesome border fence costs $60,000 to operate, allows 240 illegal immigrants to cross the border unmolested, scares away 40 potential border crossers, fries 37 people with hopes of a better life, and kills 3 innocent children. I’m looking for investors so I can get a prototype ready to sell to Florida. Who wants in?

Update: Since writing this article, I've discovered that one of the companies doing the drug testing in Florida, Solantic, was co-founded by...wait for it...Florida Governor Rick Scott. His holdings in the company were transferred to his wife shortly before he took office. So there's absolutely no conflict of interest here or anything like that.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One More And I'll Shut Up About Comics (for a while)

I’m not sure if DC saved the best for last or if everything just looks better compared to last week’s releases, but I think this week’s releases had the best overall quality so far. Nothing managed to beat out Action Comics for my favorite book of the reboot, but there’s some good stuff here (of course there’s some bad and unremarkable stuff, too).

All-Star Western
I heard good things about Gray and Palmiotti’s recent Johnah Hex series, but never got around to reading it. My understanding is that All-Star Western is basically the same book under a new title, and it looks great. The first story teams Hex up with a 19th Century Dr. Arkham as they try to solve a series of Ripper-style murders in Gotham. The issue’s a little “ancestor cameo”-heavy, but that’s really my only complaint. Hex is written like Hex should be written, Dr. Arkham’s running psychoanalysis of him is entertaining, and the art’s great. It’s pretty stylized, but I love the way the artist brings things into focus by giving more detail to and using a more varied color pallet on the things that are important to the scene. I think I’ll keep reading this one. One question for the peanut gallery: Is the woman in the cloak and cowl in the bar scene (kind of center-right in the background, behind the guy in the red vest) a cameo I’m not getting?

Batman: The Dark Knight
This is in the same category as all the other Bat books in the reboot: solid, but not spectacular. At least story-wise. I’ve got kind of a love/hate thing with the art. The costumed Batman and the cityscapes and other set pieces look great, but most of the actual people suffer from a bad case of what I can only describe as “Liefeld face.” And don’t even get me started on Hulk Two-Face.

Here’s something I never thought I’d say: I really enjoyed the new Aquaman comic. If the first issue is a good indication of where the series is going, it might even become a regular book for me. The thing that makes it work for me is the idea that people of the DCU feel pretty much the same about Aquaman as the DC fans do: that he’s a really lame super-hero who talks to fish. Acknowledging that Aquaman basically sucks right from the beginning might actually allow Johns to write an Aquaman book whose plot isn’t constantly undercut by the fact that it’s about Aquaman.

The Flash
Nothing groundbreaking here, but there’s super science right from the get-go, a good story hook, and I like the art. Buccellato does a great job of conveying a sense of movement, which is pretty important in a comic about the fastest man alive. I know that sounds obvious, but Flash artists and editors don’t always figure that out. I recommend giving this one a shot.

I, Vampire
If you love vampire cliches, this is the book for you! “Unimaginative” seems too generous and “uninspired” suggests a potentiality that does not exist here. So I’m going to go with “awful.” Not “Starfire is a sex doll” awful, just “this is not even remotely a good comic” awful.

Justice League Dark
The “occult JLA” concept could fall into a serious pile of suck very easily, and Peter Milligan is one of the few writers still working for DC that I’d trust to keep that from happening. After a couple of pages of uncertainty, Milligan won me over with three panels. The final (and my favorite of the three): “The local power station threatens to explode when it is imbued with consciousness...and gets bored.” YES! That’s some Doom Patrol level shit there! I was a little worried about John Constantine as a character in a mainstream DCU comic, but his introductory monologue (“He wanted to contact his dead wife. I wanted to pay my rent.”) put those fears...well, if not “at rest,” at least “into a state of sleepiness.” I feel good about this one as long as Milligan’s on board.

First off, what the hell is wrong with Supes on the cover? His arms and legs look hideously deformed. I’m curious whether the artist used an action figure for a model, because the limbs seem to have that sort of weird toy articulation to them. Once you get inside the book, the art is much better, at least when you can see it. For a comic book artist, George Perez is a very wordy writer. When combined with a few too many panels on some pages, this makes the comic seem a little crowded at times. Aside from the verbiage and clutter, though, it’s not a bad story. I’m especially glad that Perez didn’t immediately throw out everything I loved about the Action Comics reboot version of Supes.

Teen Titans
Ok, I like the fact that the comic starts out by acknowledging that super-powered teenagers would probably be a giant pain in the ass, and that they do it through Kid Flash, who would no doubt be the biggest pain in the ass of the bunch. The rest of the book really just establishes Red Robin as being very Batman-like and introduced Wonder Girl. Nothing wrong with it, and there’s an occasional hint of a Young Justice vibe, so I’ll at least give it until the whole team’s introduced before making a definite decision.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The DC Reboot Continues

New week, new comics. But first, great news: J.T. Krul is off Green Arrow. The reign of terror is over! Even better, he’ll be replaced by Keith Giffen. Looks like the wall of pure hate I’ve been sending out finally paid off.

We’ll start off with the one I missed last week:

Mister Terrific
I’ve always like the Michael Holt incarnation of Mr. Terrific. In addition to being a believable take on a hokey Golden Age character, Holt is a really likable guy. Therefore, seeing him turned into a complete ass in the first issue (even if it is due to some kind of crazy mind-altering something or another) doesn’t really inspire confidence. Also, while I’m a big fan of Holt having access to all kinds of crazy super-science, an extra-dimensional fortress might be just a little much. Still, I’m a big fan of the character, so I’ll give this one a few issues to pick up.

And now for this week’s reads:

Like most of the Batman books that have come out so far, this has the makings of a good, solid Batman story. Nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t really look like they’ll be covering any new ground, either. My favorite thing about this book is probably Capullo’s art, which I think fits Gotham very well.

Birds of Prey
The first issue only introduces half the team, the story isn’t great, the art is mediocre, and the costumes are terrible. Not sure if being a Black Canary fan is going to be enough to keep me reading this one, especially if there’s no Barbara Gordon or Huntress. Judging from the cover of issue one, the rest of the team is made up of characters that I’m at best ambivalent about.

Blue Beetle
I’ll admit that, aside from his occasional supporting character appearances in other books, most of my exposure to Blue Beetle was on The Electric Company. When it comes to the DCU, I usually get the Beetle and Booster Gold mixed up. Still, I always thought the character was basically a science guy with lots of gadgets, so the whole mystical alien scarab thing kind of threw me for a loop. In general, I prefer street-level super-heroes like Green Arrow or Batman, but I can appreciate cosmic when it’s REALLY Cosmic (Morrison’s JLA, for instance). The background on the mystical alien scarab thing seems to be right at that “ho-hum cosmic” level that a lot of comics get stuck in, so I’m not sure if I’ll bother reading the second issue of this one.

Since I’d read Laura Hudson’s Comics Alliance article about this one, I thought I knew what to expect and expected bad. Turns out, it was worse. Hudson’s article article focused on the book’s smarmy, fanboyish attempt to make Selina a “sexually empowered woman,” but didn’t point out that even the non-”adult” parts of the book also sucked. Outside of the opening scene and the porn, the bulk of the issue follows the exact same plot as every bad action movie with a female protagonist (which, of course, have their own twisted view of what constitutes a “strong” female character) without the slightest hint of irony.

First off, a tangent inspired by the reference to Dick’s year as Batman: Can we please stop trying to squeeze references to the old DCU into every single reboot comic? Since the heroes in the new timeline are only supposed to have been around for a few years, trying to squeeze every single storyline (or some variation on it) from 70+ years into that time frame is just a little much. Also, it defeats the whole “remove all the continuity baggage that makes the universe inaccessible to new readers” idea that I thought was one of the reasons for the reboot in the first place. As for the comic itself, there’s just enough of a hook that I’ll probably at least follow the first storyline.

Red Hood and the Outlaws
Neither Roy Harper nor Jason Todd finished out the old DCU as likable characters, so it seems like a bad idea to start them off in the new universe with equally unlikable qualities (and in Todd’s case, apparently most of the unlikable background). And then, of course, there’s the whole “Starfire is basically a Real Doll with superpowers” thing that Hudson commented on in the article I linked earlier. Really the only positive thing about this comic is that (as far as we know), Roy hasn’t raped anybody yet. Unless a court determines that Starfire’s apparent inability to distinguish one human from another renders her mentally incompetent to give consent, that is.

The only Supergirl series I’ve read was the one Peter David wrote back in the 90s. In it, Supergirl was an angel who had taken over the resurrected body of a devil worshipping teenager. Or something. The point is, I don’t know much about the Kryptonian version of Supergirl. Maybe if I did, I’d recognize something in the first issue to tell me where the story’s going or what Supergirl continuity/origin is being used. As it is, I just know that Supergirl’s apparently just fallen to earth for the first time and has no idea that her home planet has been blown to millions of tiny chunks (a surprising number of which fell to earth in locations easily accessible to Lex Luthor). I’ll pick up the next issue or two and see if it looks like it’s going anywhere interesting.

Wonder Woman
There’s a chance that this is the first Wonder Woman comic I’ve ever read. It’s not that I don’t like the character, just that I’ve never been inspired to pick up any of the books where she’s the star. The new book might just change that. Judging from the first issue, it looks like the plan is to go full-blown mythic, and I think I trust Azzarello’s to do thatl. Also, Cliff Chiang’s art has kind of a Sandman vibe to it that I really like.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Google Plus Improvement Suggestion: Subscription Circles

One of the big selling points/innovations of Google Plus is its inclusion of circles. These are basically lists that allow you to organize your contacts into custom lists which are used to control who can see a particular post. Circles are great for controlling privacy (you can post pictures of last night’s party to your “Bar Friends” circle and not have to worry about your grandmother seeing them) and for controlling the signal-to-noise ratio of your news feed (people who you don’t know or who post exclusively about what they had for dinner go into the “Don’t Care” circle that you never bother to check), but aren’t very useful for targeting posts to people who you don’t know very well (or at all).

The big problem with circles as they currently exist is that they only work if the user knows what circles his contacts want to be in. This is fairly easy for close friends (Zed goes into the movie and politics circles, but since he doesn’t game, I leave him out of the RPG circle), but much more difficult when it comes to casual acquaintances (I know Ferndando is a gamer, but have no idea if his musical tastes are anything like mine). And then there are the people you don’t know, which is especially problematic if you’re a writer, musician, politician, business owner, or other public or semi-public figure (Is this guy a QAGS fan, someone who likes my political rants in the local alternative rag, or somebody I went to college with and don’t remember?).

From the poster’s perspective, a circle becomes less useful if you’re not sure that you’ve got the right people in it. When it comes to important (at least in your estimation) news, you’re more likely to just ignore circles entirely and post publicly so you don’t miss anyone, which sort of defeats the whole purpose of having circles in the first place. On the reader end of things, getting put in the wrong circle means you’re not getting the content you want and clogs up your news feed with stuff you could care less about. If a poster is consistently posting things you don’t care about (either due to overuse of public posts or having put you in the wrong circle), eventually you’re going to unsubscribe from their feed or stick them in your own “Don’t Care” circle.

Right now, the only way to know who wants to be in a particular circle is to ask them what circles they want to be in. Unfortunately, there’s no really efficient way to do that. If you use private messages, you have to do it for each new contact and send new messages to everyone if you start a new circle. If you use posts, you have to regularly announce the circle so that new followers can opt in. In both cases, you then have to manually add everyone who responds.

There’s an easy fix for this, which I’m sure somebody has already suggested but I’m going to chime in about anyway: give users the option of making circles public and subscribable. Whenever a user decides to follow someone new, give them a list of that person’s public circles and let them select which ones they want to subscribe to. To make it easy for subscribers to add or remove subscriptions later, list every user’s public groups on their profile page along with a link that allows people to subscribe or unsubscribe.

In addition to allowing posters (especially those who use their profiles to promote themselves or their business) to more effectively target their posts, subscription circles would be very useful in allowing readers to organize their feeds. For example, I might to care what my favorite author has to say about writing and what books he’s got coming out, but not give a damn about his favorite sports team. Allowing me to subscribe to his “writing” circle and disregard his “da Bears” circle allows me to cut out the noise without losing the content I want. With a few additional tweaks, opt-in circles could be used to provide a functionality similar to Facebook’s groups or fan pages, which will be important when Google Plus opens up the doors to businesses and other organizations.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Get Ready, Movie Fans, It’s Shitember!

From the September Issue of Bazooka Magazine:
Every movie fan knows that summer movie season draws to a close sometime between the middle and end of August; I think Fright Night pretty much closed it out this year. Starting in October (amidst what seems to be an ever-decreasing number of forgettable but enjoyable horror flicks), studios will be releasing the films that they think will get Oscar attention. Some of these will spend too much time cloying for the Academy nod to be enjoyable, but a good chunk of them will be really good movies.

Those of you who are familiar with modern American timekeeping will, of course, note that between these two periods lies the month of September, which we’re just entering. That’s when studios release that stuff that doesn’t have the starpower or visual effects to compete with Conan and Captain America and is far too devoid of artistic merit for even a bought Academy member to vote for. If you love movies but hate yourself, September’s the month for you! Here’s what’s in store for you:

September 2: Apollo 18
This is another one of those fake documentaries like Blair Witch or Cloverfield, which in my book is strike one against it. The footage purports to show NASA’s secret final visit to the moon and [spooky announcer voice] why we didn’t go back! So basically, this is shaping up to be the first fifteen minutes of Transformers 3, only without any actual Transformers. IMDB lists both of the actors as “uncredited.” Not sure if that’s due to a dumb marketing maneuver, a scheme to get around SAG pay scales, or just the actors saying “hey, how about you just leave our names out of this?”
What It Wants To Be: Apollo 13 meets Aliens
What It Will Probably Be: Paranormal Activity in SPAAAAAAACEEEEEE!!!!!!
Recommendation: Just go see Shark Week 3-D instead. It’s a gorefest about sharks eating people (in 3-D!), but at least they’re not trying to pretend that a worn-out framing device that rarely works is something edgy and new. If you’re really curious about Apollo 18, you can probably get the same experience by watching random excerpts from Discovery Channel shows about the space program while a guy wearing a rubber alien suit hits you in the crotch repeatedly with a hammer.

September 9: Contagion

This one worries me not in spite of its star power, but because of it. Even though the cast is largely made up of people whose careers have likely peaked, the need to bring so many turn-of-the-century big names on board makes me worry that the plot’s a little thin. Also, based on the preview, the only two who might not be completely phoning it in are John Hawkes and that dude who played Veronica Mars’ dad. Worse still, Soderbergh is kind of hit-or-miss as a director, and this film looks like Roland Emmerich trying to do a remake of Outbreak while pretending he’s Robert Altman. It might turn out ok, but I’m skeptical.
What It Wants To Be: I’m not sure Soderbergh has any idea. Is it a drama? A thriller? A disaster movie? For most of the actors, I think the answer is “how I’ll pay for that boat I’ve been wanting to get.”
What It Will Probably Be: Again, no clue. It could be good, or it could be two hours you’ll never, ever get back.
Recommendation: Unless Burke and Hare (Simon Pegg as half of the Victorian age’s most famous grave-robbing duo!) plays here, check it out. Your only other option is Warrior, which looks to be The Fighter without all the heroin addiction and, you know, acting.

September 16: I Don’t Know How She Does It
It’s a bit alarming how much the trailer for this movie pissed me off. The basic premise is that Sarah Jessica Parker is happily married, incredibly successful, and has overachieving kids...and it’s just really, really stressful! You know, I’m pretty sure there’s a chick in Marshall County or Ledbetter or somewhere with a special needs child and an abusive ex who’d trade in her double shifts at Wal-Mart and the meth lab next door for this “stressful” life without a second thought. Once you get past the elitism of the premise, the rest of the movie seems every bit as uninspired as the decision to cast Sarah Jessica Parker as a vapid cunt.
What It Wants To Be: A modern-day 9 to 5.
What It Will Probably Be: An insult to Rosanne Barr’s entire career.
Recommendation: Piranha 3DD

September 23: Killer Elite

You may have heard of “on the tin advertising,” which basically means you get exactly what’s advertised. In the world of movies, this describes fine films like Snakes on a Plane and Hot Tub Time Machine. Killer Elite seems to be a variation on, or perhaps an evolution of, that concept. In this case, the basic idea seems to be “if we tell them what the movie is about, we don’t have to even bother giving it a good title.” If you hook two groups of guys up to state-of-the-art brain scanners and tell one group, “We’re making a movie about Jason Statham and Clive Owen trying to kill each other. It’s called Killer Elite.” and tell the other group “We’re making a movie about Jason Statham and Clive Owen trying to kill each other. It’s called Photographs of President McKinley’s Hairy Nutsack,” the readouts for the two groups will be identical: Fuck yeah!
What It Wants To Be: A giant action movie about Jason Statham and Clive Owen trying to kill each other.
What It Will Probably Be: A giant action movie about Jason Statham and Clive Owen trying to kill each other.
Recommendation: Did you miss the part where Jason Statham and Clive Owen are trying to kill each other?

September 30: Courageous
This movie is from the makers of Fireproof, so I’m assuming that it, like Fireproof, will play at the Paducah Cinemark for months despite the fact that by all rights it should be a straight to video release. Fortunately, this one doesn’t have the kind of star power (by which I mean Kirk Cameron) that Fireproof brought to the table, so hopefully it won’t hang around as long. Although I’ve never seen Fireproof, my understanding is about a heroic firemen who love God. Courageous, on the other hand, is about heroic policemen who love God. So this is a pretty radical departure for the film makers.
What It Wants To Be: An affirmation of Christ’s love and/or the inherent legitimacy of authority figures in uniform.
What It Will Probably Be: Wasting a screen that could be showing a perfectly good movie about tits and evil fish.
Recommendation: Hope something good’s playing at Maiden Alley. The only other new release this weekend that might be watchable is 50/50, which might not even play here. “50/50,” by the way, is both the title of the film and the ratio of good to bad leads (Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Seth Rogan)

Once the long dark teatime of the movie industry that is September ends, things will get better (or, in the case of Hugh Jackman in Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em Robots: The Movie, bad in much more ridiculous and potentially amusing way). In addition to The Rum Diaries (which I hope will show up at Maiden Alley), October’s got at least one over-the-top action flick (the steampunk Three Musketeers movie), what could be a passable sci-fi flick starring Justin Timberlake (In Time), and a few remakes that might be worth seeing out of curiosity if nothing else (Footloose, The Thing). After that, the holiday movie season kicks into gear and there’ll be too many movies coming out to keep up with. Just don’t forget what’s really important this holiday season: seeing the new Muppet movie.

Friday, September 16, 2011

DC Reboot, Week 3: Eh.

I decided not to pick up all the new DC reboot comics this week. The first week’s selection was mostly mediocre, so this time around I picked up major characters, characters I like, and a few that sounded neat. I skipped Deathstroke, Grifter, Legion Lost, Red Lanterns, and Resurrection Man and missed Mister Terrific (which I do want to read). The verdicts on the ones I read:

Batman and Robin

Once you get past/ignore the fact that the reboot timeline (which is supposed to be something like 5 years after the various super-heroes started appearing) means that Bats has been going through Robins at an alarming rate, this is pretty much what you expect from a comic that pairs Bruce up with his son. Damien doesn’t take orders and seems like he could just as easily be a sociopath as a hero and Bats isn’t used to dealing with quite so much attitude. It looks like the writers are taking their cues from Morrison on this one, so this should be a good one.


Despite being part of the reboot, this looks to be basically the same Batwoman comic that was promised a year or two ago but never got off the ground. Looking forward to finally reading it.

Demon Knights

The Demon/Jason Blood and Madame Xanadu wander around medieval Europe at some unspecified time after the fall of Camelot, occasionally meeting up with Vandal Savage. In the first issue, they also meet up with a character who appears to be a female version of Shining Knight. Not sure about this one. I really like the character design for Etrigan, but so far he only seems to speak in rhyme when transforming. I realize writing the rhymes is probably a huge pain in the ass, but not even trying seems kind of lazy to me.

Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E.

I wasn’t reading comics when the Seven Soldiers of Victory stuff came out, so I don’t really know anything about the character. Based on the first issue, though, I like it: Frank works for the Super Human Advanced Defense Executive, which is headquartered in a microscopic city inside a 3-inch indestructible ball that moves around at 600+ mph, his boss is someone named Father Time who gets a new body every 10 years and is currently a little girl, and he’s just been paired up with a team of other variations on the classic Universal monsters. The first issue has a “Doom Patrol meets Hellboy” kind of feel, and if they can keep that up, I’ll keep reading.

Green Lantern

The book starts with Sinestro getting a power ring, which seems like a bad plan considering that he’s apparently already done a bunch of the bad stuff he did in the old DCU. Then we cut to Hal and discover that it was his ring, which the little blue guys took away from him (presumably because of recklessness) and he’s not handling it well. The issue’s basically all set-up for the final page, which looks like it will lead into the actual premise next issue. The first issue was readable enough, but there’s not enough story there to make any real judgement about whether or not the series will be worth reading.

Suicide Squad

Harley Quinn and a bunch of other really bad guys you’ve never or barely heard of (I think Deadshot’s the next most recognizable) get forced into working for Dr. Amanda Waller. I assume they’re going to be some sort of super-team, but based the description of the first mission (provided just as the issue ends), it’s also possible (if unlikely) that Waller has lost her damned mind and become a super-villain. I’ll give it a few issues, if only because they seem to be writing Harley the way I like her--disturbingly, creepily insane--and there’s a guy with a shark head.


This one’s all origin story, so it’s going to take at least another issue to get a feel for where it’s going. It looks like it might just be rehashing the mid-90s Superboy storyline, but hopefully they’ll add something new or interesting. I kind of like the manga-style art.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Dan Didio Nut-Kick Theater

Since this blog has been mostly politics lately, let’s talk about comic books.

While I still go pick up new books every Wednesday, I’ve gotten way behind on actually reading them. I’m anywhere from 2 to 10 issues behind on most books at the moment and just can’t find time to sit down and catch up. When I do catch up on something, it’s not unusual to realize that I should have stopped buying it months ago. So for me, the DC reboot is a way to start fresh and attempt to keep up. Except for the single issue of Justice League last week, this Wednesday was the first wave of the new DC books. Since all but a few were on my “at least check out the first issue” list anyway, I decided to drop the extra $10-15 and give them all a chance. Just finished them all and the experience was mostly underwhelming, though some of the titles do have potential.

Justice League

This was the only DCU book released last week, and the big jumping on point that was supposed to get fans amped up for the all new DC Universe. Apparently, the creative team (or more likely, Dan “should be kicked in the nuts” Didio) decided that the best way to do that was with a story where....not much happens. So it’s kind of hard to tell where this one will go. Johns seems to be taking the Grant Morrison “Batman is so incredibly competent that he’s almost a self-parody” track, which can be a lot of fun. Green Lantern seems to be at least somewhat based on Ryan Reynolds from the movie, which could go either way. I don’t hate Jim Lee’s art, but I don’t especially like it, either. Especially the actions scenes. Lee seems to belong to the “maybe if I just put a bunch of shit in the panel, no one will notice that I suck at actually showing what’s going on.” I will cautiously buy issue 2.

Action Comics

The idea of an “edgy” Superman would turn my stomach in the hands of most writers, but I’ll give Grant Morrison the benefit of the doubt on just about any concept. It only took him a few pages of establishing that the edginess comes from the fact that Supes is an activist to win me over completely. This comic will probably cause some serious nerd rage, but I think I’m going to love it.

Animal Man

I never read Morrison’s Animal Man series, but I’ve run into the character in other books. He’s got kind of a “regular guy” vibe that I like, and the whole shamanistic animal otherworld thing seems neat. I’m not crazy about the art in the new book, but it looks like they’re sticking with the same basic character that’s always seemed likable to me, and the final scene of issue 1 means I’ll at least buy issue 2.


I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of the most recent Batgirl series, so it’s one of the ones I’m a little sad to see get rebooted. Plus, Barbara Gordon has been Oracle pretty much the entire time I’ve been reading mainstream comics, so while seeing her as Batgirl is cool, the idea of a DCU without Oracle is a little weird. The comic kind of starts where the original Babs-as-Batgirl ended, with her returning to duty after several months in a wheelchair courtesy of the joker (fortunately in the new DCU, the damage wasn’t permanent). I really enjoyed the first issue, but I’m probably a little biased since I’m a fan of both Batgirl and Barbara Gordon.

I kind of like the art, but nothing about the first issue of this book really reaches out and grabs me. That said, the premise--a super-hero based in the Congo--has potential. If nothing else, the types of crimes and bad guys to be dealt with should have a very different vibe from the typical American super-hero comic. The problem, of course, is that I’m not sure I trust Judd Winick to do anything but write a straightforward American super-hero comic, only with black guys and Congolese place names. I’ll probably pick up the next issue or two just to see if it’s going anywhere interesting.

Detective Comics

The timeline seems to be after Bats has befriended Gordon but before the rest of the GCPD and city government are on board with the idea of a vigilante as an ally, and the series dives right into things with the Joker as the antagonist. It’s pretty standard Batman fare, but I’m always a sucker for any Batman comic that includes “Frank Miller medical updates” whenever Bats gets hurt.

Green Arrow

The nut kicks I advocate for Dan Didio are meant to be one-kick (each time you happen to run into him), do-it-and-it’s-done affairs. Almost like a greeting. Hell, I’d even be willing to elect a Nut Kick Commissioner to rule on when it is and is not acceptable to kick Didio in the sack. In the end, I know Didio will get his due when the ghost of Julie Schwartz rises, Spectre-like, to exact vengeance upon him. J.T. Krul, on the other hand, deserves the kind of brutal nut punch overkill that Hartigan gave to That Yellow Bastard’s head in Sin City. After all, he wrote The Rise of Arsenal, which is arguably the absolute worst comic book mini-series to ever see publication and then continued his rape of the Green Arrow family with the moronic “a forest pops up in Star City” nonsense. When I heard about the reboot, I was heartened by the idea that Krul’s reign of suck over one of my favorite characters was finally coming to an end. But, of course, Didio earned his daily nut kick by deciding that Green Arrow would be one of the few comics that didn’t get a new writer.

I was sure that this comic would be yet another rape of one of my favorite characters by Krul. The low expectations might have actually helped, since the comic didn’t manage to annoy nearly as much as expected. Sure, the villains are apparently motivated by Youtube hits, Krul’s attempts at writing Ollie-style banter are atrocious, and the armor looks entirely too Green Lanterny for my taste. However, at no point in the book does Ollie take off his pants and start randomly urinating on things, which for Krul is a small victory. I will give him credit for re-introducing the trick arrows and remembering that Ollie does, in fact, own a huge technology company and therefore should have some Batmanesque cool toys. I will continue to read this book out of grim obligation to the character and the solemn hope that J.T. Krul is struck down by a vengeful god or rendered permanently incapacitated before the series gets cancelled.

Hawk & Dove

Even if this comic were extremely well-written (it’s not), I would have still been distracted by one of the great mysteries of modern life. Namely, how is it possible for Rob Liefeld, who has absolutely no skill or talent for drawing, to be a successful comic book artist? I just don’t understand.

Justice League International

I suspected that loyalty to some of the individual characters would be the main draw of this book, but the first issue suggests that there might be some fun character bickering, and there’s even a possibility of some ineteresting conflict derived from introducing global politics into the usual super team set-up (the team is backed by the U.N.). If nothing else, having protesters bomb the Hall of Justice in the first issue is enough to convince me it deserves a chance.

Men of War

Call me a traditionalist, but Sergeant Rock should be fighting Nazis. In addition to just seeming wrong on a fundamental level, attempting to update Rock to a modern-day setting runs a high risk of the enemies devolving into offensive racial stereotypes. Much as I like the character, I doubt I’ll pick up the next issue.


I knew basically nothing about this character going in, and after reading the first issue, I still know basically nothing about this character and am very neutral on the comic. Since I usually love Giffen’s work and, as I may have mentioned, am not a fan of Dan Didio, I was hoping that one of them would overpower the other, making the decision as to whether or not this would be worth reading an easy one. Instead, it seems that when the powers of good and the powers of suck combine, you end up with something blindingly mediocre. I might pick up issue 2 in hopes that by then Giffen will have discovered a way to circumvent the Kryptonite-like drain on all things good that is Dan Didio (my suggestion: repeated nut kicks), but only if it comes out during an otherwise slow comic week.

Static Shock
Comics, on the most basic level, are supposed to tell a story with pictures. Words are often used to enhance the story, but the visual element should generally be a big part of the experience. So if a typical page of a comic is using several hundred words and most of them add very little to the story, somebody’s doing something wrong. Sometimes the artist just can’t tell a story very well. Sometimes the writer is too wordy or not good at letting the pictures do the talking. Since the art in this book seems to do a pretty good job of showing what’s going on, I’m going to blame the overabundance of caption boxes and word balloons in this book on the writing team. Unfortunately for DC and fortunately for my bank account, there’s nothing about this book that makes me feel like I need to buy any future issues.


I used to read The Authority and always like the characters, but I’m curious how they’re going to fit it all into the DCU. Several of character concepts (especially Apollo and Midnighter) have always been “kind of like [JLA member], but more of a bad-ass and not necessarily ‘heroic’ in the traditional sense,” and it look like that may be the direction the book is headed. I’m definitely intrigued, especially with the idea of Martian Manhunter belonging to both teams.

Swamp Thing
Re-envisioning Alan Moore seems to be a battle you’re destined to lose, so I’ll give the creative team some credit for even trying. The book starts off after Dr. Holland has died, become Swamp Thing, and somehow returned with vague memories of his time as a rotting heap of plant matter. Then at the end, a Swamp Thing completely independent of Holland shows up. Not sure if Swampy and Holland existing independently of one another was done in the old comics--I never finished the series--but using that as the starting point could work. We’ll see where it goes from here.

Looks like next week has a few of the big names (Batman & Robin, Green Lantern), a few all-new (at least in monthly format) titles (Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE, Red Lanterns), and a few titles that, if history is any indicator, are doomed to cancellation (Resurection Man, Deathstroke). We also finally get the Batwoman series that DC’s been promising for at least a year now. I don’t know if I’ll pick up the whole pile next time--I find it hard to imagine any possibility of a readable Grifter comic--but I’ll try to post some mini-reviews of the ones I do.