Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Shadow #5

At last we’re getting back into the swing of things. Maybe at some point I’ll even do something not comic book related. Until then, the journey continues!

When last we checked in on our plucky protagonists… things could be going better. The American vessel carrying Lamont Cranston, Margo Lane, and intelligence agent Finnegan has been blown to kindling by Kondo’s cunningly placed mines. The surviving marines left in the water are easy pickings for the Japanese soldiers and Chinese bandits aboard Buffalo Wong’s ship. As the massacre is brought to terrible completion, Cranston, Lane, and Finnegan manage to swim to the relative safety of shore. I saw relative because for all intents and purposes they are still deep behind enemy lines with little hope of rescue. Would we have it any other way though? Finnegan gets his first taste of bitter reality as he laments his disregard for the captain’s warnings of a trap. The dead marines in the water are the result of his hubris (though perhaps not his alone). He confesses that he imagined this would be more of a “rip-roaring” adventure, another oblique indictment of both the imperialistic attitudes of western exotica and the dime novel culture which helped disseminate these notions through the popular consciousness (of which The Shadow itself is ironically a part). Imperialism has many faces though, and the excesses of the Japanese Empire are nothing so much as its twisted carnival reflection. Kondo, General Saburo, and Wong at last arrive at Wong’s mercenary base, where a gang of beleaguered slaves is kept ready to mine the coveted radioactive minerals. Once the nefarious deal is agreed upon, the assembled commence in celebration. Away from the camp however, Cranston plans his next move. Like a whisper in the dark the Shadow infiltrates Kondo’s guard with frightening effectiveness (seriously, Batman and The Punisher only¬†wish they were this terrifying). Stealing into the heart of Wong’s domain, the bandit king and the dark avenger confront one another at last. Wong immediately recognizes him as Kent Allard, which the Shadow simply responds is “an old name.” The reunion is short-lived though, as Wong attempts to outdraw his former associate and is promptly gunned down for his trouble. These shots arouse little suspicion from outside though, as Kondo’s men have turned on Wong’s and are executing the mercenaries, a double-cross seemingly planned from the beginning. In the morning though Kondo’s victory is hollow. The minerals Wong provided them were false, having kept their true location a secret just in case of such a betrayal. Now the Japanese have no leads left and their expedition was for nothing. Both Kondo and General Saburo will be disgraced, but Saburo intends to salvage their men’s dignity and, in his mind, redeem Kondo’s many transgressions. He berates the arrogant Kondo and tells the junior officer to bring him his sword. It is implied that Saburo intends to commit suicide in the act of seppuku.

All told I’m not sure if this issue is quite as strong as the couple before it, but that’s not to say it isn’t still incredibly enjoyable. There are little sticking points, like how Cranston just happens to have his Shadow regalia despite having only meager supplies otherwise, but they aren’t really that much to write home about. I’d say that if you like Garth Ennis, like Aaron Campbell, like The Shadow, like period stories, or just like adventure you don’t have to turn your brain off for, then you should really definitely pick this up. Honestly though, even if you don’t like any of those things you definitely will by the time you’re done reading. Grab this off the rack and find a comfy chair. Wherever it is, you’ll have the best seat in the house.

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Godzilla: Half Century War #2

I feel a bit like I might be retreading territory only recently surveyed, treading with ponderous thunderclap steps that herald a typhoon wave of panicked shouts and visions of all artifice put to ruin. This is the price of my recent lackadaisical attitude though, so to bring you up to speed the doomsday clock is going on daylight savings time. Roast ’em if you got ’em. The war continues!

We pick up the action fully thirteen years after the events of the first issue. It’s 1967 and Godzilla has taken his show on the road. Next stop: war torn Vietnam. It’s an interesting backdrop for the book’s sophomore outing, and while they don’t do as much with it as I’d have maybe liked, it’s not an arbitrary choice. Godzilla walks through one of the most intense conflicts of the latter twentieth century like it’s barely a nuisance. This isn’t the bedraggled and ill-equipped Japanese army of a dozen years prior, this is half a million American troops and the full weight of our military industrial complex, not to mention thousands more of Vietnamese forces on both sides. Godzilla pays these no more mind than he does anything else in his path. Once again the creature is a force of nature, wholly implacable and driven by primordial motivations. One subject of discussion is exactly why Godzilla has strayed this far south of his normal stomping grounds. Lieutenant Ota Murakami, now a part of the multinational Anti-Megalosaurus Force ( there’s a fan patch I need), has apparently become an adept at predicting Godzilla’s moves, and this rampage is way out of character. Mapping the lizard’s route gives Murakami the indication that he is hunting something, or multiple somethings. At least one of these mysteries is solved with the sudden appearance of Godzilla’s longtime supporting act, Anguirus!

By everyone’s reaction, it can be inferred this is the first appearance of any other kaiju besides Godzilla. The two do what everyone would expect them to do and go double or nothing on the Tacitus tango, making a desert and calling it peace. Their battle sufficiently weakens Godzilla that Murakami thinks they might have a shot of killing him with an experimental weapon, but their shot is interrupted by a bombardment from a cavalier American general and Godzilla is permitted to escape once again. After the dust settles, Murakami’s superior reveals his own discovery of a machine that may have been influencing the two creatures movements. An intriguing plot turn that unfortunately we have to wait another month to explore.

As I mentioned, I feel that there could have been more done with a setting as interesting as this. The characters also haven’t really developed as much as I feel they should have. We pretty much have to take their word that thirteen years have passed, because just about everyone looks the same and their battles with Godzilla over the intervening years are referenced only in passing. Kentaro Yoshihara, our de facto sidekick from the previous issue, really doesn’t feel like he has much of anything to do. That all being said, there’s still enough lip service paid to both setting and characterization that you don’t really feel like either has been completely shorted. Moreover, James Stokoe’s art remains absolutely impeccable. Somehow simultaneously gritty and gorgeous, he captures not only the perfect feel for a Godzilla book but also for a Vietnam War piece. If you haven’t already checked out Stokoe’s fantastic Spider-‘Nam fan work that’s something you desperately need to remedy. My only gripe with this issue is that it didn’t give me more, but in this case that’s because what I got was pretty awesome and I hunger for it greater quantities. I get the feeling that this is a series meant to be savored slowly, and Stokoe is going to give us exactly as much as we need exactly when we’re ready for it. I can’t wait.

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The Shadow #4

Three posts in a week? Shine on you crazy diamond! I have to say, this review is perhaps the one I regret delaying on most. I say this because this is the issue of The Shadow that I didn’t even know I was waiting for.

Garth Ennis has already been doing a bangup job on this book, but this is maybe the first issue that really got its hooks into me. It begins with Kondo and Buffalo Wong, the Japanese intelligence officer and Chinese bandit warlord, discussing their theories about the identity of the Shadow. As it happens Kondo’s hypothesis is one hundred percent correct, astutely linking the Shadow to his civilian persona of socialite Lamont Cranston. He goes further than that however, connecting both Cranston and the Shadow to Kent Allard, an American underworld baron with a mysterious past who operated in the Orient for a time. This more firmly establishes the continuity this particular series is drawing from, the true secret identity of the Shadow having been the subject of more than a few shell games in his publication history. It also gives us a sense of the Shadow’s own ambiguity and thirst for redemption beyond mere revenge. In a nod to the film version one panel showing Allard holding court in an opium den bears a passing resemblance to Alec Baldwin, a touch I enjoyed. Also referenced is the legend of distant holy men who reform villains into instruments of justice, another piece of the Shadow lore. In discussing the Shadow’s brand of vigilantism he is described as a kind of samurai, though I personally would have found the term “youxia” more appropriate. Kondo clearly possesses a canny intellect to bring to bear on Cranston, and it is interesting to see their respective gambits play out against one another.

Meanwhile, Cranston and his ship’s crew encounter the collateral of Kondo’s advance upstream. A village slaughtered and defiled in an all too common pattern of the Japanese army. Cranston’s demeanor loses all of its typical smugness, bearing the caustic venom normally revealed only in private. He forces the crew and Margo to take in the carnage, something for which Margo later attempts to rebuke him. In response though Cranston gives us a glimpse into his terrible experience. Through the Shadow’s prescience he has seen all of the horror of the Second World War play out before him. The Shadow knows the evil which lurks in men’s hearts, because we have seen that same evil also resides within him, but these wrongs darker than death or night draw from him a moral revulsion unlike anything that can be understood. It explains the almost manic cast we have seen in his eyes throughout the series, the desperate hate. He knows that he cannot stop what is coming, no matter how many he saves it will never be enough, but he knows that he can punish it. In a way that only he can. Just as the knowledge of good and evil changed Adam and Eve, so too has it warped the Shadow.

In the perfect conclusion to the episode, Cranston’s ship is lured into a trap by Kondo and struck by mines which destroy it in a terrific explosion. You can imagine the movie serial title card that comes after the last panel, practically hear the melodramatic swell of the orchestra. Its a certified gold effort from Ennis and Campbell (with covers from Alex Ross continuing to amaze). This might be my favorite thing that I’m reading right now, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Today’s thrilling installment of Roll For Relevance has been brought to you by Blue Coal!

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Earth Two #’s 4 + 0

Wow that numbering thing really isn’t working out is it? For this installment of Masterpiece Theater Roll For Relevance you will be treated to a rare double feature. “Treated” being somewhat relative in this case being as I’m mostly making up for lost ground, buuuut let’s not dicker.

Last time on the place with the people doing the things!

When, way back in the summer, we previously left the not-JSA they were just setting up to rumble with the new incarnation of Solomon Grundy, coming to us courtesy of Clive Barker’s musty hope chest. Grundy does some monologing (to no one in particular, definitely not to the reading audience) about the battle between the Green and the Grey. These seem to represent the primordial manifestations of life and death, growth and decay. I’m told that this may have some connection to the classic and current Swamp Thing books, but I can’t really comment with any authority on the link.

Grundy is well and ruining everyone’s day, even above and beyond his mainstream counterpart’s capacity for mayhem. The serial’s first proper superhuman wrestlemania is broken up somewhat though by another diversion into background exposition. I understand this is necessary for the series, but I feel like it might be starting to hurt the book’s pacing. Al Pratt’s cameo in the inaugural issue is expanded upon to demonstrate his inexplicable survival of a nuclear detonation and subsequent transformation into The Atom. This new version seems to be amalgamation of the golden age original with the later characters Atom Smasher and Damage. As far as the redesign is concerned, I wasn’t really into it at first. It’s managed to grow on me though in a way the Flash and Lantern costumes still haven’t quite bridged, so it earns back some points. Al Pratt gets in on the action around the same time the rest of the gang, finally making good on the team premise. Unfortunately, the action never quite manages to get its feet under it. Grundy’s steadily escalating threat is undermined somewhat by the Atoms, ahem, method of entry.

In spite of this inconvenience resurrection is part and parcel to Solomon Grundy, so I will be the last one surprised when he makes his eventual comeback tour. This particular storyline being brought to a slightly abrupt resolution, the next arc would seem to be looking towards establishing the identity of this new supergroup and its relationship with the rest of the world, as The Atom takes Hawkgirl, Flash, and Green Lantern into government custody. Oh noes!

Before we can see their beleaguered blackbagged fate however we are taken on a trip back in time for issue number zero.

Rather than the somewhat wandering narrative we’ve had over the past several volumes, this story is told to us almost entirely by Terry Sloan, who was first introduced to us as a mad scientist in issue two kidnapping Micheal Holt, aka Mister Terrific. At one point Sloan was apparently a hero of this universe and a close ally of The Ternion, this world’s Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Going by the name Mr. 08 ( not, as you might expect, Mister Terrific) Sloan fought on the front lines against the Apokoliptian invasion of earth we witnessed in the first issue. This alien incursion seems to have combined elements from the New 52’s Justice League series and the events of Final Crisis, with the Anti-Life Equation playing a prominent role. Sloan’s Face-Heel Turn comes about from his belief that those areas of the globe under alien occupation/mind control must be sacrificed so that their populations cannot be used as hostages or soldiers. Since not everyone else is as casual about genocide as Sloan seems to be he goes rogue in order to do what, in his twisted view, is necessary. Even being told from his perspective, Sloan doesn’t come off terribly sympathetic. It makes him a better villain though and coupled with references to a multilateral military force called the World Army, which the Atom seems to be affiliated with, would appear to be setting up the next arc of the series.

Earth Two isn’t going to blow your mind, but it’s an interesting cape book that isn’t encumbered by the red tape of crossover continuity. This additional creative freedom should hopefully let James Robinson and Nikola Scott start finding their groove now that the necessary introductions have at last been done away with.

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Post script: Despite the fact that Hawkgirl is the the character who is given the cover, she really doesn’t feature in this issue much. She’s there certainly, but we know almost nothing more about her than when she first appeared nearly two issues ago. It’s a small thing, but its been bugging me.

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Godzilla: Half Century War #1

Here it goes kids. No more excuses. You ready? Too bad, lets go!

Reviewing this is somewhat problematic in that there isn’t a whole lot I can say it about it. I liked it. I didn’t really find anything to complain about. As such, I don’t have a preponderance of material. Quantifying what I like about something has always been more difficult than what I don’t like. I was only passingly familiar with James Stokoe prior to this, but his art really brings it home in so many ways. Gritty and visceral, but also showing a little touch of manga influence. The confluence of these is pretty much the perfect style for a good Godzilla story, particularly one focused on the ground level the way this one is. Also, Stokoe has created¬† what is probably the perfect visual representation for Godzilla’s trademark roar.

The perspective Stokoe creates is very engaging, capturing the unfathomable nature of Godzilla as an impossible and ultimately unstoppable force. The protagonists, rookie army officers Ota Murakami and Kentaro Yoshihara, do not so much triumph as they simply survive. The sense of place and period is also strong. The ill-suitedness of Murakami and Yoshihara to their surroundings, both in terms of their military role and the very unnatural disaster they find themselves caught up in, reflects the uncertainty of Japanese culture at the time. Ota and Kentaro are oddballs in an army that was no longer assured of its place in society. Even their mandate of self-defense seems ephemeral in the face of Godzilla’s destruction. Out of this crisis though the two find a sense of grounding and purpose, marking the beginning of a long twilight struggle against the unknowable.

That’s really about all I can say about it at this point without retreading over my previous Godzilla essay. I’ve got a good feeling though that this series will only give me more to chew on.

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Not quite yet

So it turns out the long days aren’t quite behind me just yet. I’m almost done with them though and after that I can start getting back into the rhythm of a normal human being again. Until that time, I can only ask for your patience gentle readers.
In recompense for my manifest deficiency of character, I humbly offer to blow your minds…

Oppan Gotham Style

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