tmp_adventures_of_apocalypse_al_1_cover_2014740171087Hey, didja know that one of J. Michael Straczynski’s first professional writing gigs was on the cartoon The Real Ghostbusters? Sure, it might seem odd that the guy who came up with Babylon 5, Crusade and the first draft of the World War Z movie cut his teeth on irony-based horror comedy, but it’s true: one of JMS’s earliest gigs was putting words in the mouth of Peter Venkman. That puts him in the rarefied company of Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, and every slashfic author who ever wanted to see Bill Murray take a PKE Meter in the Ghost Trap from Patrick Swayze, if you get my drift.

Without that knowledge, it would seem really counterintuitive for the guy who wrote Changeling to write a horror comedy with an oracle who can foretell the futures price of cucumbers, a lawyer with a sense for the dramatic who happens to represent the Prince of Darkness, and a private detective protagonist who specializes in stopping the end of the world despite her crippling fear of sensible shoes. It might sound silly for the guy who wrote The Shadow War to write a book where someone warns the hero that the end of the world is preferable to undercooked bacon, but again: Straczynski made his bones writing for the animated avatar of Bill Fucking Murray.

Which means that Straczynski is actually a pretty damn good person to write a book like this. Which is why it’s actually a lot of fun.

the_twilight_zone_1_cover_2013I am not the world’s biggest fan of The Twilight Zone. I recognize that that is a hell of a thing to say for a self-avowed sci-fi fan on the day after SyFy’s (God, remember when it was called The SciFi Channel? And they showed science fiction programming as opposed to wrestling specials and movies about animals mixed with monsters and / or weather events?) two-day marathon of the show, but that’s just the way it is.

I understand the show’s contribution to televised science fiction and horror, but the shows tended to follow a formula: there’s someone with some kind of internal flaw, be it venial (wants more time to read) or mortal (the vanity to get surgery to be as attractive as everyone else). Something happens that seems to give them what they want, and then there’s a twist at the end that makes them pay for their sins. Except for when there are cookbooks and gremlins on the wing, but for a large part, that description covers the show’s formula. It’s a morality play in one act, and it’s a formula that’s never really hooked me in.

And writer J. Michael Straczynski also understands the formula… for the most part. In his first issue of The Twilight Zone series from Dynamite Comics, Straczynski gives us a deeply flawed “protagonist,” who has a powerful wish that is seemingly answered with a mild twist. But Straczynski forgets one part of the formula. And it might not seem like the most important part, but by ignoring it, it really took the experience down a notch for me.

j_michael_straczynski_SDCC_20131925073596We attended several panels yesterday, and will be writing up more extensive write-ups of at least one of them later or tomorrow (Robert Kirkman’s Skybound panel in particular was interesting), but in the meantime, I wanted to put up something that was interesting, but not particularly comics newsworthy.

Every year of the eight we have attended San Diego Comic-Con, J. Michael Straczynski has hosted a Spotlight panel, where he talks about some of the stuff that he’s working on, but mostly spends his time answering any and all questions posed to him. Be they inquiries about the infamous “Spider-Man Sells His Soul To The Devil To Get Younger Poontang” story in One More Day, or the reasoning behind taking on the controversial Before Watchmen books, to whether or not he liked The Hobbit, he will answer any question… provided it isn’t posed by some naive foreigner.

And you can see this for yourself, as we took video of big chunks of Straczynski’s panel this year, and have included those videos here. But now, a disclaimer: some of these videos may or may not have minor hitches in them. I’m seeing them on my two-year-old tablet via shitty hotel WiFi, but then again, on this rotten, overloaded connection (that only cost me $14.95! For 24 whole hours! And, due to the three hours it took to upload a handful of minute-long video clips, prevented me from publishing this last night as originally intended!), Web pages chug when I try to load them in Lynx. So your mileage on a wired connection may vary. If you find them distracting, I apologize.

Either way, you can check them out (and learn his criticisms of The Bible’s literary merit) after the jump.

dr_manhattan_4_cover_2013Editor’s Note: The spoilers… the spoilers are taking me to pieces.

The final issue of Dr. Manhattan, written by J. Michael Straczynski with art by Adam Hughes, extends what is arguably the greatest comic book story of all time, provides additional perspective on one of that classic story’s great mysteries, and it does it with bold storytelling choices, both in the writing and in the art, that play on one of Watchmen‘s original themes of symmetry.

Or, to put it in plainer terms: Dr. Manhattan #4 is fucking awful.

Straczynski uses the framework of Before Watchmen – a book that was partially sold to a seriously skeptical public as a prequel that would not attempt to modify or circumvent Alan Moore’s original Watchmen – to completely blow away one of the key ambiguities of Dr. Manhattan’s story from the original. Further, halfway through the issue, he switches point of view to that of Ozymandias to show his motivations at a key point leading into Watchmen, but not only are they motivations that really have no real bearing on how that story turns out, but they are presented using a visual gimmick that makes the story difficult to read for no reason beyond either Straczynski, or Hughes, or both, making the decision to say, “Lookit me! I’m dicking around with the established language of comic storytelling! Why? Because fuck you, that’s why!”

There are baseball analogies that could be applied to Dr. Manhattan. “Swinging for the fences” is one, although it’s not really accurate. I’m thinking more along the lines of “Running onto the field and mooning the pressbox,” because Straczynski and Hughes are playing around in areas where they shouldn’t really be in the first place, and they’re sure as hell not playing the game by any of the rules that anyone wants them to.

Plus, there’s one panel where Hughes all but rubs our faces in Doc’s dangling blue wang.

It’s really not that good, guys.

nicolas_cage_supermanIt is New Year’s Day, and thanks to about fifteen glasses alternating between Milwaukee’s and Lynchburg, Tennessee’s finest products last night, it feels like my brain has been taken over and occupied by Doctor Octopus. Or at least part of Doctor Octopus. Part of Doctor Octopus after a meal of bad sushi and piss-warm Chango. And to add insult to injury, I flipped on the TV this morning to be subjected to Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which, as comic book movies go, certainly is one (man, Stringer Bell and Sailor Ripley sure have let themselves go).

Chuck on top of that steaming mess that there are no new comics until tomorrow, and nothing whatsoever apparently going on in the world of comics, and what we have is a new year that, so far, is… disappointing. And with that feeling in mind, and 2012 at our backs, it seems like as good an opportunity as any to revisit the biggest disappointments in comics and geek culture that occurred in 2012.

And given that the memory is so fresh, we might as well start with (although this list is in no particular order):

Superman: Earth One, Volume One, when it was released in October, 2010, was a damn exciting development in Superman’s history, albeit alternative history. It was the first modern reimagining of Superman’s origin since John Byrne’s The Man of Steel in post-Crisis 1986, and it was the first version to posit Clark Kent as a somewhat modern 20-something – a modern 20-something circa about 1996, but still, better than a young man fresh out of college in a pristine blue suit, dress fedora and no stench of alcohol. Sure, it had some story issues – for example, if I could somehow finagle an interview for a job for which I was, on paper, grossly unqualified, and I then said I wanted to fuck around with their infrastructure, I would be less likely to be offered six figures than 60,000 volts from a stun gun – but I generally found it to be a refreshing take on Superman’s origin, especially considering that the alternate universe conceit allowed writer J. Michael Straczynski to be bold with things without needing to come up with some outlandish, what-if-Superman-landed-on-a-cocaine-farm Elseworlds scenario to tell it. It was a recognizable Superman story, non-beholden to continuity, and thus it felt fresh.

That, however, was two years ago. Superman: Earth One, Volume Two was released yesterday, and between the two volumes was a small event in the DC Universe called the New 52 Reboot. Which means that, for good or ill, Straczynski’s alternate universe early Superman stories are no longer going to be automatically compared to a miniseries written when newspapers were viable, homeland security involved a deadbolt and a shotgun, and “blog” was a regional reference to a particular consistency of bowel movement.

So the question here not only is whether or not Superman: Earth One, Volume Two is a good story and worth the 23-buck cover price, but how well it holds up now that it’s presenting itself as an alternative to an in-continuity Superman with an origin that’s more modern than the one presented in Volume One. And the answer? Well, like the first volume, it presents a pretty entertaining and generally emotionally engaging story, with a bunch of logical problems and character choices that seem to be made more based on convenience than realism… but it is definitely affected not only by comparison with the recent DC reboot of Superman, but with some older, near-classic comics that tackle similar themes.

However, Straczynski clearly knows that he is writing a comic for the Internet age, because there is also a cute kitty and underboob shots. So it’s got that going for it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: All the atoms in the test chamber are screaming at once. The spoilers… the spoilers are taking me to pieces.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating: Adam Hughes’s Dr. Manhattan #1 cover looks like the Good Doctor is blasting Silk Spectre right in the shitter.

Now that we have the pleasantries out of the way, we can talk about the issue itself. And a big part of me expected to not like this book. Writer J. Michael’ Straczynski’s work on fellow Before Watchmen title Nite Owl has been disappointing on a good day, and an irritating retcon of various elements of Watchmen continuity as a whole, on a bad one. Further, this book lives and dies based on Manhattan’s preoccupation on quantum theory, which is something that I can’t remember the character ever obsessing over in Watchmen, but which makes sense since Wikipedia’s article on quantum mechanics shows that not only was quantum theory viable in the mid 20th century, but that even in the early 21st century I am still too stupid to understand quantum theory.

With that said, this is an engaging book that captures the ADD nature of Dr. Manhattan’s inner dialogue in a manner that Watchmen fans will find familiar, fills out some of the backstory to the character that makes some sense, and closes on an intriguing mystery that makes me want to come back to see how it plays out. At the same time, it also somewhat overplays those character traits in ways that don’t make sense for a character who can see the totality of time, instills motivations on Manhattan that have never been mentioned before, and uses the word “box” more than an 1974 porno loop.

That’s the hell of quantum mechanics – all possibilities are real, and influenced by the observer.

I expected things to be a little more contentious than they wound up being at DC Comics’s Before Watchmen panel yesterday.

After all, this is Comic-Con. It is packed to the gills with rabid fanboys and fangirls, many of whom were swirlied in junior high school (Hi, Paul Jameson! I make a comfortable living in the software industry now! How’s that A in woodshop treating you, fucker?) and now that they have strength in numbers, are itching for a fight. This convention has fundraisers for Jack Kirby, panels dedicated to pointing out the injustice of Bill Finger not getting enough credit for co-creating Batman, and a panel called The Most Dangerous Women in Comics. It is a place where a lone nut in a Batgirl suit can change the course of an entire comics company, and come back the next year bearing gifts for the creators and none for the thousand or so paying customers whose convention experience she fucked with last year in order to further a personal agenda. In short: this is Angry Fanboy Central, and if there was a place for them to show their colors, it was this panel.

But that didn’t happen. Sure, the panel started a little bit late, and the whole Quentin Tarantino announcement smack in the middle sucked up some question time, so maybe the slavering, angry, “You fucked Alan Moore!” guy just didn’t get his turn at the microphone. The people who did get a turn were generally really enthusiastic about the whole Before Watchmen project; one fan flat-out said that he was one of those “keyboard commandos” who ranted against the whole project, but wound up really getting sucked into it. Hell, the entire Alan Moore elephant in the room was only addressed once by anyone in the crowd… and it was a guy who was hoping that DC could get Moore to work on a Watchmen sequel.

How’d that turn out? Well, let’s watch!

The problem we’ve run into a few times in the Before Watchmen books, and which I think we’re destined to keep running into and being annoyed by, are changes in character and established plot from the original Watchmen story. It’s been popping up since the first issue of Darwyn Cooke’s Minutemen, where we saw professional wrestler and noose enthusiast Hooded Justice suddenly able to disappear into shadows like the ghost of Bruce Lee. The worst offender (so far) has been Brian Azzarello’s Comedian, where Azzarello apparently decided that when Alan Moore wrote that Eddie Blake was working with Nixon in Dallas during the Kennedy assassination, what he really meant was that Blake was off somewhere fighting Moloch and whimpering over the shooting like a woman or some common hippie.

J. Michael Straczynski’s Nite Owl isn’t the worst offender in this vein – frankly, it would probably take seeing Rorschach gathering intel to take down Big Figure by going undercover at a glory hole outside a Chippendale’s to beat seeing The Comedian get all weepy over a millionaire Boston liberal – but JMS makes a fundamental mistake in Rorschach’s characterization that conflicted completely with Moore’s original work, and which popped me right out of the story. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Because despite that fundamental flaw that will be glaring to any hardcore fan of Moore’s original, there’s actually a lot to like about this comic book.

This past weekend brought us the C2E2 convention in Chicago, “C2E2” of course being an acronym for “a convention that’s growing like a weed since it is now almost purely and theoretically impossible to attend SDCC.” And since DC Comics’s Before Watchmen titles begin dropping in June, several weeks before the Big Dance in San Diego, and since displaying comics-related righteous indignation would technically require Alan Moore to obtain a difficult-to-secure work visa, it was a perfect time for Dan DiDio to take advantage of the con to trot out the creators and show off some preview art.

Pretty much all the creators were on the panel – you can get a pretty decent first-person recap of the panel at Comic Book Resources – but two highlights were Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan writer J. Michael Straczynski’s comments on Alan Moore’s… shall we say inchoate, snide rage over the entire project: