project_superpowers_jae_lee_2008Here at the Crisis On Infinite Midlives Home Office, we are some Warren Ellis fans.

Back in 2000, when watching Unbreakable led me to leave a several-year Vertigo Comics exile to delve back into superhero comics, Ellis’s The Authority and Stormwatch trades helped reinforce my hope that superhero comics had moved away from the Image Age of chicken-scratched detail lines on footless steroid monsters punching on each other with no driving story to speak of, and into something that an adult might like to read.

Ellis’s Nextwave remains one of my favorite limited series of the past fifteen years, and his collection of Come In Alone columns not only reinforced that there were actual adults writing comics, but they made me a lurker on the Warren Ellis Forums, where my proudest contribution was that Matt Fraction ripped off the logo from a 1999 Web site I ran to be his forum avatar for a while.

Ellis has been mostly absent from mainstream comics since we started this Web site in 2001. He wrote Secret Avengers in 2001 (which is the first book I ever reviewed here), and he’s been contributing to the Kelly Sue DeConnick co-written Avengers Assemble for the last couple of months, and he did the Avengers: Endless Wartime graphic novel a few months ago,  but otherwise he’s been working on novels and TV properties and whatnot.

So it is about time, as far as we fans are concerned, for Ellis to take on a larger-scale comics project… which is a thing that he is doing. Specifically, he will be rebooting Dynamite Comics’s Project Superpowers line of books. You know, that line of comics that Alex Ross and Jim Kreuger launched in 2008! The one that none of us actually read!

dresden_files_war_cry_cover_1It might be hard to believe, given that we are big enough comic book fans here at Crisis On Infinite Midlives that we started a Website that is dedicated to comics, but we are, in fact, capable of reading books. You know, actual books. Ones with no pictures in them. And sometimes even ones that don’t feature superheroes. Although not often. Unless they’re written by Neal Stephenson. Which do feature a character named Hiro Protagonist. But that’s not the point right now.

The point is that we do read books… albeit usually genre books. And those genre books include Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. We became fans of the character, as many did, via the Sci-Fi Channel (you remember, back when “SyFy” actually showed, you know… sci-fi?) series starring Paul Blackthorne from Arrow. We became fans of the book, as many did, when I was at Logan Airport waiting for our flight to San Diego Comic-Con, realizing that I’d forgotten to pack a book to distract me from five hours of crippling nicotine fits, and finding Storm Front at the Hudson News near the gate.

So we have enjoyed the series of books (to the point where we own the Dresden Files roleplaying game, and will even play it when we have a spare hour here or there), and have enjoyed the Dynamite Comics adaptations of some of those books, except for the most part, the comics have been just that: adaptations. Meaning that we already know how those stories go and how they end, which mitigates some of the wonder of reading those comics.

But there’s a lot of time and activity that happens in between those novels that isn’t accounted for, and one would think that those periods would be a fertile groundwork for stories. And apparently, Butcher and Dynamite agreed, because at the currently-occurring Emerald City Comic Con, Dynamite has announced The Dresden Files: War Cry, which is an actual untold story of The Dresden Files… and which puts it high on our pull list.

Grimm8Comic series that are adaptations of other properties can be hit or miss. One of the first comic books I remember getting as a kid was the four issue mini-series based on Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I read the shit out of those books. On the other hand, I’ve been reading the comic adaptation of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books and been somewhat less enraptured. Now, you can make the argument that there is about a 30 year age difference between those reading experiences. However, I think it might come down to the fact that I hadn’t seen Raiders yet when I got those comics, whereas I had read all of the Dresden books before I read the adaptations. So, while the Dresden adaptation isn’t bad per se, it just visually doesn’t match up to how I have already played those scenes out in my head when I read the stories the first time. Still a perfectly good comic book series, just I’m probably not the designated audience.*

*This is also the part where I somewhat shamefacedly admit to enjoying the comic adaptation of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, which is vampire mommy porn of the first order. Never read any of the actual novels; don’t ever intend to. However, if I had read them, I’d imagine I’d have similar dissonance issues as I do with Dresden.

Which brings me to the comic series based on the NBC TV series Grimm, published by Dynamite Comics. The television show is in its third season. How successfully does its comic fare?

tmp_the _shadow_vs_grendel_promo_2013313739154Since taking over The Shadow license, Dynamite Comics has come out with what seems like a Bakers Dozen worth of Shadow titles, some good, some only okay. And I have taken or left them on a title-by-title basis without really getting excited about too many of them after Garth Ennis’s initial few issues… up until now.

Dynamite and Dark Horse Comics have announced that they will be producing a crossover: The Shadow Vs. Grendel. Colt .45-wielding Vigilante Lamont Cranston versus Wagner’s fork-bladed staff-swinging master criminal Hunter Rose.

Jesus. This idea is such a gimme that I’m almost okay with it being yet another project between Wagner and Mage: The Hero Denied.

tmp_shadow_now_1_cover_2013-1782885318Editor’s Note: Who knows what spoilers lurk in the hearts of men? Oh, I’ve used that one before? Well, I’ll email you a full refund.

Back in the mid-1980s, Howard Chaykin rebooted The Shadow for the 20th Century with his Blood & Judgment miniseries for DC Comics. And that story was a classic, firmly dropping Lamont Cranston into what was then the present, including MAC-10s instead of Colt .45s, a pastel pallate, and, being a Howard Chaykin book, more tits and ass than you can shake a stick at. And even though the book came out when I was 15 years old, long before the widespread adoption of the Internet, I categorically deny that I ever shook my stick at it. But I digress.

Well, that story took place 27 years ago, which means it’s time for another reboot, because God knows that unless someone comes up with a rational explanation for it, you can never allow a comic book character to not age in real time. That’s why Batman ‘s latest wonderful to is a colostomy bag. Jesus, I’m losing the thread again…

Anyway, writer David Liss and artist Colton Worley are tasking themselves with the same goals that Chaykin had back in 1986: bring The Shadow into the present day. And how would a dude carrying a couple of guns and an adenoid laugh fare in the world of the Internet, easily-available pornography, and where the evil that lurks in the hearts of men is leveled off by Adderal and Xanax?

Not nearly as well as you’d hope, actually.

mocking_dead_1_cover_2013-205542117Mahatma Gandhi once said about fighting The Man: ” First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” And that’s a fine addage to remember when you’re being hosed down with pepper spray by some armored riot cop due to your belief that everyone should eat tofurkey or something, but it doesn’t really apply to big genre trends. In fact, the opposite is true: first some nifty geek thing takes the world by storm (hi, Twilight!). Then people start actively complaining that they’re sick of hearing about that trend. Then come the parodies, and finally the thing goes back underground, never to be mentioned again except on obscure fan and slashfic sites.

And I can hear what you’re saying: “Rob,” you’re saying, “How dare you sully the good name of Mahatma Gandhi by mentioning it on this Web site? You’re not fit to carry this great man’s diaper!” Well, I’ll concede that you have a point, or at least I will if it gets me out of carrying a giant diaper, but I do have a point. And that point is that zombies have been front and center of the geek consciousness arguably since Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later was released in 2002, penetrating into movies, comic books and television like few recent monsters that don’t sparkle. And for the past couple of years, more and more people have been grumbling that they’re sick of zombie stories – not me; I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of seeing people being eaten while society crumbles around them, but a lot of people.

And now come the parodies, specifically, this week’s The Mocking Dead, by writer of a bunch of the Marvel Zombies miniseries Fred Van Lente and artist Max Dunbar, which not only pokes fun at the public’s zombie apocalypse fascination, but at the people who are fascinated by zombies. And if this is, in fact, a sign that zombies are that far along on the Reverse-Gandhi Geek Continuum (Trademark me! I own that phrase, and al the subsidiary rights!), well, Robert Kirkman better open a savings account and hose off his diaper bucket.

pathfinder_7_cover-155712338Dear Dynamite Comics: please reconsider the font you use to number issues. With God as my witness, I thought Pathfinder #7 was actually a #1. It’s the only reason I bought it.

Because normally I would never buy a sword and sorcery book, at least not sight unseen. I have a mental block when it comes to genre stories about quests and swords and paladins and magic users. You can give me a story about a hero in spandex attacking a giant monster, the same story with a hero with a laser pistol and a giant robot, and the same story with a dude with a sword and a dragon, and I will pick stories one and two almost every time. I’m the same when it comes to role playing games: Shadowrun and Call of Cthuhlu, yes; Dungeons & Dragons, no.

But I review comics, so I bought what I thought was a first issue, because frankly, I need to file copy almost every day, and hey: you never know. But while I was disappointed when I saw that it was actually a seventh issue, my spirits were lifted when I saw it was written by Jim Zub, the writer of Skullkickers, a sword-based adventure story that is a favorite outlier in my eyes due to the presence of a gun, and metric buttloads of solid humor.

Pathfinder #7, however, is no Skullkickers. It is a far more conventional D&D-style story, by which I mean it is very much like a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Zub gives us the well-balanced party of adventurers, cast as if by a demanding DM, with modern-style dialogue and some of the classic obstacles and antagonists of that game.

It is also a well-executed entry point for new readers, introducing a new adventure for the party, demonstrating internal conflict, and teasing one of the great battles one can find in a game of D&D.

You know, if you like that sort of thing.

green_hornet_1_cover_rivera_2013Editor’s Note: While we might normally report on a piece or two of comics news this late in the evening, it is April Fool’s Day, and we don’t believe a single Goddamned thing we read on any news site today. And while I toyed with making up some bullshit story about us being acquired by Marvel Comics or something, I feared too many people would comment simply with, “Good.” So here’s a comic review.

Despite a misspent youth, adolescence, adulthood and middle age reading comic books, I don’t really have a lot of personal history with The Green Hornet. The radio show and the Bruce Lee TV series were before my time, and I missed the attempted comics reboot of the character in 1989 since I was just starting college and therefore needed to cut back on my comic budget to fund a newly-found Boone’s Farm habit. I became mildly interested in the first Green Hornet series from Dynamite Comics back in 2009 until I learned it was being written by Kevin Smith, and therefore there was an even chance that the second issue would be finished and released sometime next November. And then there was the 2011 movie starring Seth Rogan that was so abominably awful I felt ripped off seeing it for free on cable while so drunk I would have been entertained by almost anything airing on TruTV.

So, long story short, I really haven’t had much of a reason to follow The Green Hornet. I, however, have many reasons to follow Mark Waid. So I picked up his first issue of The Green Hornet purely based on Waid’s name, with my only preconception about the character being that Seth Rogan played him in a way that made Adam West look like he was starring in The Dark Knight Returns.

So was the fact that Mark Waid was the writer enough to make me give a damn about The Green Hornet for the first time ever? Well… kinda. There was some pretty good stuff here to be sure, but there were also a few leaps in logic that I didn’t believe, and a little too much time tying the character into Dynamite’s shared pulp universe that was interesting, but distracting. But on the plus side, it featured far fewer fart jokes than I remember from the movie.

red_team_1_cover_2013When it comes to comic books by Garth Ennis, sometimes it feels like a coin toss as to which writer you’re gonna get: the writer with a laser focus on the behaviors and traditions of regimented subcultures, or the writer who’s over the top, balls out nuts. When it comes to Garth Ennis, it seems like it’s either heavily researched war comics, or sci-fi western pilgrims with a rifle and a hard-on for Jesus. Battlefields versus Crossed. Max Punisher or Marvel Knights Punisher.

When Ennis goes serious, he goes serious; his war comics – even the ones where he goes more toward the fucked up, like Stitched, a story about some soldiers stranded in Afghanistan being hunted by zombies – feel like he spent some serious time hanging out with soldiers, learning a lot about tactics, weapons, and their relationships and ways of talking. Now, I’ll grant that I’ve never spent any time around people with a serious military background, but those stories feel like Ennis spent some time with real people who have really done the things that he’s writing about.

Ennis’s latest series, Red Team, similarly feels heavily researched. However, it feels like it was researched by way of some things I have spent a lot of time around… those things being The Shield, The Wire, and Homicide: Life On The Street. In short: Red Team feels more like Ennis’s take on some of the better American cop shows (by way of Dirty Harry’s Magnum Force) than it feels like an authentic police story.

But with that said, I like all those shows. So does Red Team stand up to them?

spider_8_cover_2013For most people, when they think about pulp fiction, they think about period pieces. They picture men in tailored clothing driving vintage Packards, going from swanky cocktail party to party, pausing only to could mens’ minds and then shoot them in the face with a .45 before flying off on a rocket pack or autogyro or something. This is probably a natural association, as most of the classic pulp stories were published in the early 20th century, back when if a man wanted a little titilation, he needed to purchase a nickel story about a pulp hero rescuing a scantily-clad dame in chained dangers. You know, as opposed to today, when a man can pound his fist on his computer keyboard and see pictures of women and fine china, but not using it in a way that Lamont Cranston would find appropriate.

But that’s not necessarily what pulp fiction is at all. For your standard debonair urban pulp vigilante, all you need is a rich socialite, preferably an industrialist, with resources, an ally or group of allies working with him in his crusade on crime, and some kind of costume for his nocturnal activities. Oh – and a gun, and the willingness to use it. Sure, sometimes it’s better to place it in the 1930s or 1940s, when the idea of a guy being able to run around killing criminals without being caught made more sense since most people believed that a “fingerprint” was some form of sex act, possibly related to a Rusty Trombone, but the era doesn’t matter if you have the core elements at place.

So by that measure, The Spider #8, written by David Liss with art by Ivan Rodriguez, is most decidedly a pulp story. Richard Wentworth is a wealthy industrialist with a bodyguard who helps him in his adventures, a Margo Lane in reporter Nita Van Sloan, and even a gimmicky nemesis. And he has a pair of guns to completely make the nut. And it does it all set in good old 21st Century urban America… but it also does it with the worst of pulp tropes: a plot twist so obvious that a blind man could see it coming. For all the cool modernized pulp elements of The Spider #8, it most decidedly will not cloud any man’s mind.