I went into Dynamite’s Gold Key reboot with somewhat tempered expectations. I have no nostalgia for the characters; I didn’t read Valiant in the 1990s, and my attempts to explore the characters via Dark Horse reprints of the original stuff left me more bemused than anything (Really, those are some very stiff comics, albeit ones that have flashes of charm in their awkwardness).

Even so, it felt as if the reboot was hooked around the Valiant relaunch that has worked so well for me; the cover designs and logos—like those for Valiant, designed by the wonderful Rian Hughes—called to mind the Valiant look, and of the four books, two were written by Valiant writers. Plus, Nate Cosby was packaging and editing the line; if nothing else, I figured, it would be worth a look for his connection alone given other books he’s been involved with.

Overall, the line is not quite there yet, but not in a bad way. (The newest book is only two issues in, after all; it really is early days.) There isn’t a bad book amongst them, although they’re offering very different types of stories and may not necessarily hang together coherently in a universe just yet, unlike the Valiant relaunch which felt very streamlined from the very start.

3683027-02Taking them in order of publication, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is arguably the most ambitious of the series, at least on the face of it—I suspect that Doctor Spektor is up to something far bigger, but we’ll get to that soon—and that ambition hurt the first four issues for me, with too much being thrown in to set up the status quo of the series but not enough “happening” to make it feel like it had a lot of momentum.

For those not following the book, it takes place in 1210AD, except that’s not quite true. Things are going weird with time, throwing the native American tribes that “belong” to the era into conflict with both prehistoric dinosaurs and religious crusaders from the middle ages (This may be a reference too obscure to mean anything to anyone, but it reminds me of the Joe R. Lansdale novel The Drive-In, which I loved many years ago). Greg Pak tries hard to not only unpack what that means for the various groups in his first storyline, but also give enough of an “origin story” to the title character, but the result is a bit muddied, with too many characters (and too few sympathetic ones) to really get a hold on.

The second storyline, which is currently midway through with #6, is far, far better, in large part because it strips the cast back considerably and allows for a clearer—and more character-led—conflict to emerge, with Turok’s dilemma being more sharply delineated. It helps, too, that Takeshi Miyazawa has taken over the art chores; original artist Mirko Colak is by no means a bad artist, but there’s something about Miyazawa’s work that makes the characters easier to relate to, and the book in general more organic and less forced.

Like Pak, Magnus: Robot Fighter boasts a Valiant veteran as writer: Fred Van Lente, who Jeff has a problem with on this book. While I understand his concerns, I don’t really share them, in part because I don’t think Van Lente really wants us to take this book as seriously as Jeff seems to believe he does (Naming a character H8R or spending two issues poking fun at the “political correctness”—I shuddered typing that without irony—modern audience awareness demands would suggest otherwise, for example) and in part because I appreciate Van Lente’s willingness to raise questions and concepts without signposting his own take on them.

What I’m less into, by the time we get to the series’ fifth and sixth (Sorry, fifth and “zero-th”) issues this week, the pace of the narrative, and the way it feels as if it’s getting away from me so early. I understand the need/desire to explore the broad Matrix-esque world of the series (High concept of the book: Magnus is awoken from virtual reality upbringing where man and machine live in perfect har-mon-ee as Michael Stevie and Paul once put it to a world where machines have replaced mankind as the dominant life form, for reasons that are not exactly what you might expect, goes on to fight robots and try to find the source of his VR childhood), but the book feels like it’s losing focus at the same time as Turok is coming into focus. Not necessarily a good thing, although it remains completely entertaining nonetheless.

(The art, by Cory Smith for the most part, is pleasingly blocky; it’s also one of those rare cases where a predominantly murky color palette from Marshall Dillon utterly fits, not least of which because it throws Magnus’ red-and-blue outfit into strong relief in almost every scene.)

solar_man_coverHaving left behind the screwy past of Turok and the wacky maybe-future of Magnus, we reach Solar: Man of the Atom, which I really, really shouldn’t like as much as I do. It has a lot against it, whether it’s the sudden, jarring fill-in art midway through the third issue, the reliance on cartoon swearing (Sorry, but that always %@!*ing annoys me when I see it) or the oddly glacial pace of the story compared with the other series, and yet, I’m really fond of it.

Much of that comes from Frank Barbiere’s tone for the book, which is at once pretentious—each issue starts with what’s essentially a text page featuring one line—and irreverent, matching the conflict within the title character, which Barbiere has reworked as essentially “What if Firestorm was Martin Stein and his pissed off daughter, whom he’d abandoned?” The bait and switch of essentially killing the title character of the book at the end of the first issue was something I appreciated, as well; a sign that all bets were off and that this wasn’t the Solar you knew.

The problem is that it’s not quite clear what this book is, just yet. It’s reminiscent of Ultimate Spider-Man (in a good way) as well as Firestorm, but it doesn’t quite have its own identity just yet. I’m sticking with it for now—there’s enough here to win the series a lot of goodwill, definitely—but this is a series that needs to find its own identity sooner rather than later. Ideally with one artist, instead of the five that illustrate the third issue.

And so, we arrive finally at Doctor Spektor: Master of the Occult, which is the most difficult of the series to get a handle on so far. Part of that is undoubtedly down to it being only two issues old, but there’s a sense of… misdirection, perhaps, about the series so far. The two issues so far have not only presented the eponymous lead as being one of the series’ many mysteries outside being one of writer Mark Waid’s trademark snarky leads, but have almost purposefully gone out of their way to keep what the book is about mysterious as well. Which leads me to wonder the following: Is Adam Spektor somehow the big bad of the Gold Key universe?

Doctor SpektorWe’ve definitely been given a strong hint or two in that direction—Magnus shows up in the second issue, saying that he came to save reality from Spektor, and there are some reality-bending (or, perhaps, multiple-reality-bending) elements in both issues to date that suggest that Spektor is easily manipulated, more powerful than he knows and more than likely, a bit of a sociopath. (Also, and this is something that is either an odd design decision or a clue, but Doctor Spektor is the only book where the logo isn’t placed at the same angle on the page, instead being “flat.” Although that might be a sign of me falling down the rabbit hole.)

To date, it’s a frustrating read, but intentionally so, I think; the problem with such stories, though, is that you can only throw questions at your audience for so long without them rebelling and demanding not only answers, but some concrete footing from which they can build a connection with the characters. If the dizziness of the opening issues isn’t grounded soon—whether with the “yeah, Adam is the problem” solution or something else that we can understand—then this might cross over from frustrating to annoying. Yet it is, still, early days. We’ll see how it shakes out.

Overall, the Gold Key line is “promising” more than “great,” but promising feels like a win these days, considering some of the alternatives out there. There’re definitely problems with each series, but all of them feel not only easily fixable, but close to being fixed, or the result of teething troubles that you can almost see being done away with within a couple of issues. It’s no Valiant—it’s not as slick, and not as coherent as a line—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. File under “cautiously optimistic,” and ask me again in six months.

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First and foremost: how great is Graeme’s takedown of MPH?  Reading that the other day was like having a triple shot of espresso.

As for me, I keep wanting to write capsule reviews—if I do ‘em right, they’re lively, fast-moving, and funny, plus it’s a little bit easier to ignore my shortcomings (“Oh, the art? Huh, yeah, I guess the art is okay”) —and I think I finally found my hook. What if I reviewed the books from Comixology’s recent Summer Reading List giveaway? Maybe broken out over two or three entries?

That might be okay, right? If I don’t give myself too much rope and end up writing eleven million words, thereby defeating the purpose, right?

Anyway, after the jump:  Days 1-6!

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I’m sure you’re familiar with Mark Millar and Duncan Fegredo’s MPH, a series that, according to the writer, melds the traditional Millar formula of “Take Popular Pop Culture Artifact And Scrape Off Serial Numbers, Maybe Add Super Powers If There Aren’t Any Already” to the kind of intense realism that comes from him visiting Detroit to see urban collapse for himself and get him so passionate about the topic that he mailed copies for the first issue to everyone in the U.S. Senate as well as President Obama.

You might even be thinking about picking the book up, thinking “Well, I’m sure this has to be something special if he’s proud enough to make that kind of grandiose gesture.” Well, in order to ensure that you know what you’re getting yourself into should you pick the book up, here’s a conversation between two characters in the second issue:

“I know he’s smart, but it’s not just jobs we’re missing now. Half the street lights don’t even work. What kind of city can’t afford to light its own streets? It’s all going to hell, girl. I’m telling you. America is fucked.”

“Oh, America’s doing fine, Chevy. I’ve seen it on TV. It’s just us who’ve been left behind.”

MPH1Yes, that’s right: one of the characters from Detroit is called Chevy. Another is called “Baseball,” because—well, I don’t know. It’s American? Or he’d watched The Wire and noticed that one of the characters was called Bubbles and thought maybe it was something similar? It’s not important, because Mark Millar is telling you how bad things are in the city, y’all. Like, he’s literally telling you, with characters offering laughably heavy exposition that not only doesn’t read like anything any real person would ever say, but of course makes the characters sound like every other character Mark Millar has written regardless of culture, location or any other factor that could possibly differentiate them.

The problem with MPH, then, is that it’s like every other Mark Millar comic despite all the hype. I shouldn’t be surprised—I’m not, not really—but I think I wanted this one to be different, at least, if not better. All of Millar’s early press for the series suggested that he was conscious that he was going to be reaching into an area that doesn’t conform to his traditional narrative of morally dubious leads finding power and subsequently moral redemption by going up against even bigger bastards (traditionally rich white men, although it’s not as if Millar’s known for demographic diversity) in some kind of overly-simplified climactic showdown tailor-made for the inevitable movie adaptation, but going by the first couple issues, MPH is on track to turn out to be just that.

On the one hand, I find myself wanting to absolve Millar from any blame in this. I mean, he’s a canny populist, knowing enough to pick up enough language and symbolism from contemporary trends to dress up his generi-story without letting them overwhelm or complicate What The Reader Wants; that’s what he’s always been, so surely the fault is mine in expecting anything more?

MPH2And yet, I find myself feeling as if it’s irresponsible, somehow, to not offer anything more given that what Millar’s doing with MPH isn’t just stealing a serious, real situation that a lot of people are living in, but—considering the publicity-generation of interviews or, you know, sending a copy to politicians—attempting to speak for, and represent the people in this kind of situation. There’s some kind of responsibility to do more than just “your usual” in a circumstance like that, surely? Especially for someone who describes themselves as a “leftie” whenever asked about their political views?

The lack of effort in rising to the challenge of actually trying to represent those you claim to represent in this comic is its most damning feature. We’re all used to Millar wasting the talents of his artists—you need to look no further than his current Stardust (I meant Starlight, of course; thanks, Ryan) for more proof of that, although Fegredo’s work here isn’t quite as eye-catching—but this is careless, cravenness on a whole new scale, it feels like. It’s a crappy comic book, sure, but it also manages to be a crappy comic book that makes you feel a little more disappointed in those involved with it after you’ve finished. It’s like the comic equivalent of Facebook manipulating your emotions in the name of science, except science is so very far away.

 

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The original Hurts Donut

The original Hurts Donut

Hey, everyone!  This is a big episode in more ways than one:  not only is it a two and a half hour episode for you, not only is it our epic conclusion to our discussion Steve Englehart’s amazing run on The Avengers, but it is also the episode to listen to if you want to win one of the five Oily Comics Summer Bundles!

It’s an episode so big, we…had to skimp a bit on the show notes?  Join us after the jump for notes, apologies, and your chance to win it big!

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So…who’s in the mood for an absurdly digressive review of the first three issues of a title that’s been out for months? But, wait, here’s a bonus: you also get to hear what I think about a thirty year old movie?

Tingles, right? Anyway, join me after the jump for a whole bunch of words about… Continue reading

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It’s A Wait, What?-Oily Comics Crossover Event!

Yes, now it can be revealed!  Graeme and I are thrilled to announce we’ve partnered up with the mighty Charles Forsman:  five lucky listeners are going to each receive a copy of the 2014 Summer Bundle being published by his indie imprint, Oily Comics.

Limited to 200 sets, the Oily 2014 Summer Bundle includes work by Daryl Seitchik, Aaron Cockle, Max de radigués, Alex Kim, and Sacha Georg, as well as prints by Warren Craghead and Billy Burkert, and, of course, work by Mr. Forsman himself, all in a gorgeous envelope designed by Julia Gfrörer.  (No joke, it is amazing.)

As long-time Whatnauts know, The End of The Fucking World made us huge fans of Chuck’s work, so we were gratified, terrified, and humbled that he listens to Wait, What?  In fact, it was his early support of our Patreon campaign (as well as supportive tweets on our behalf) that made Graeme and I think we should do something to thank him for his support, and also promote the inspiring work he’s doing with his Oily Comics imprint.  Also, as you know, we’re a big fan of getting good comics into the hands of good people, so we thought this would be a great way to do so.

Details of exactly how we’re going to get five lucky podcast listeners are still forthcoming, but we will say that although our Patreon supporters will get an early shot at the details, everyone will have a chance to win.  Needless to say, keep your ears open during our next podcast.

Anyway, all of this really was cooked up as a way to support and thank Chuck, but he suggested drawing a comic to promote the promotion, which is how I ended up having a dream I never knew I had fulfilled:  to be drawn as Robin and to have my terrifying arm hair shown to the world.  So now I’m scheming to figure out a new promotion to thank him for his promotion of this promotion…and ’round and ’round and ’round it goes.

So, yeah.  Listen to our podcast next week for more details, ready yourself to win, and pin the amazing cover envelope image by Julia Gfrörer to your vision board for inspiration.  Your Oily Summer starts now!

Julia Gfrörer, you are awesome.

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Frankenstein is anything but harmless. Get it? Armless?

Frankenstein is anything but harmless. Get it? Armless?

There’s something very odd about the way that the various DC weekly books are paced. By necessity, they launch amazingly slowly — I re-read 52 recently, and was genuinely surprised at how poorly the opening issues read in retrospect, and how long the series takes to come into focus — because they have to juggle and sustain what are essentially disparate single plots for an impressively long time, meting out developments slowly enough so that they don’t exhaust material too quickly. They’re the ultimate “decompression” comics, even if they normally receive some kind of “Well, that’s different because they’re weekly comics” excuse from traditional complaints from readers.

All of which is to say, The New 52: Futures End #0-7 may feel like it’s dragging and a little directionless right now, but I still have this odd confidence in the series that, I’m worried, it may not actually deserve.

I said on the podcast that, in terms of the spectrum of DC weekly (or bi-weekly) series, this is far more 52 than Countdown to Final Crisis, and that’s still the case. The 2006 series definitely feels like the model for Futures End in almost every way, from the world-building, expansive cast of essentially b-listers or below with links to the Big Guns, almost comically-visible attempts to point to Grand Themes (By now, the “What Does It Mean To Be A Superhero” and “Technology Can Be Used to Dehumanize Us” signposts have been fairly well hammered into readers’ consciousnesses) and the asking of Big Questions that may or may not be answered before the series finishes. It’s also a model in terms of creative construction, with four writers contributing to each issue creating the fun guessing game where you can try and figure out who wrote what (I’m pretty sure Dan Jurgens is handling the Lois plot, and Brian Azzarello the Batman Beyond one, but beyond that, I have no real idea).

That clear connection to 52 creates a strange goodwill in me towards the series that I’m not sure I’d have otherwise; certainly, there are plots that I have almost no interest in whatsoever (The Frankenstein/Ray Palmer/Amethyst teaming leaves me cold, for example, despite the Phantom Zone jaunt in the last two issues) and there are moments that feel distinctly Countdown-esque in tone and execution (The villains planning the heist, the heavy-handedness of the Red Robin scenes). And yet, I’m in, I’m down with this series far more than I am for the arguably-superior Batman: Eternal, and I’m not quite sure why.

Well, that’s somewhat facetious; I prefer reading about Mr. Terrific and Firestorm than I do Batman and Batwing, for one. I also like the expansiveness of Futures End more than the relative claustrophobia of Eternal’s Gotham-centric focus.

Futures_End_Vol_1-3_Cover-1More than that, I like the feeling that Futures End is additive to its fictional world, however temporary those additions — Lois as the Perry White of the Internet, the clearly-not-going-to-last-past-this-series post-Earth War status quo, Mr. Terrific’s Steve Jobs-meets-Kanye empire — may end up being. There’re things being set up here that I appreciate as a longterm DC fan, things that I kind of wish would happen in the “mainstream” DCU, whether it’s Black Adam in the Phantom Zone, the new Firestorm situation (and definitely costume), or Cadmus Island patrolled by OMACs. It’s nothing new, per se, but it’s something different and potentially interesting, and that’s enough to keep my attention right now.

For those who haven’t been reading DC books for more than two decades at this point, though — I’m not sure there’s enough there there to keep them engaged. At only eight issues released (and DC, seriously: That zero issue was really issue one. Let’s stop with this “zero issue” bullshit, please — anyone who started the series with “issue one” would have been rightfully confused), we’re still at the point where things are being set in motion and put into place, and all plots are on a slow burn. I get that. For the good of the series and keeping the attention of those who don’t have irrational attachments to either the DCU as a historical narrative engine or 52 as a series, I do kind of wish that everyone involved could find a way to set everything in motion in a way that’s just a bit more fun and interesting in its own right.

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Hey, so here are Jeff’s reviews! They have a common thread, I think! Click through to read them with your eyes, or don’t click through to read them with the power of your imagination.

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