Month: August 2011

‘Justice League’ #1 Review: Where did everybody go?

Posted by – August 31, 2011

Once again, nothing will ever be the same in the DC Universe—at least until another company-wide crossover event comes along and throws gasoline on already-problematic fires once again. That’s the cynical way to read DC’s hero-redefining refresh that begins in Geoff Johns and Jim Lee’s Justice League #1. I’m actually more hopeful, though. If “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and “Infinite Crisis” were visits to the emergency room for DC continuity, the “New 52” initiative is a full-fledged dive into the fires of Mount Doom followed by a visit to a Lazarus Pit.

Think J.J. Abrams’ sledgehammer to the Star Trek franchise, only without all of the narrative grace tying previous cannon together with the new order of things. Therein lies the post-Flashpoint #5 mystery as Johns and Lee open up with Batman fleeing Gotham’s helicopter police across the city’s rooftops. The status quo for the Justice League’s members is all up in the air as far as we’re concerned as readers now. Batman is at odds with the police again (he clarifies as much in a conversation with Green Lantern), and he has definitely not established ties with Hal Jordan and Superman yet.

Batman is the bridge, though, between “Flashpoint” and Justice League. Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and Cyborg get left in Johns’ toy chest for this issue—even though they all appear on the cover. What we do get to see, however, is a younger Superman and a quick series of scuffles showcasing Jim Lee at his best.

Green Lantern repeatedly refers to himself in the third person, and this gets absolutely obnoxious as things progress. His green constructs, particularly the surprise fire engine, are gorgeous and fitting, though. The story flows well, and it’s an effective opening act, teasing Darkseid and laying the groundwork for the title team to drift together.

Alex Sinclair’s colors remain the gold standard for superhero action stories. These panels blaze and fade with the story like the Fourth of July, and the script is serviceable and tagged with nuances such as Green Lantern’s ignorance of what “Dark Side” is and Superman’s gentle words to accompany his pink-and-blue Jordan silencing punch—or is that heat vision? (I’ve looked at it a few times, and I’m still not sure.)

Justice League #1 is a fine start. Much like Abrams’ “Star Trek,” this issue is also a work that is going to need some future context to define exactly how good it is, but as a gateway to a new era, it feels strong. It’s funny to think that Marvel turned to Lee to define the look for their spit-shined X-Men title 20 years ago, and he’s being called upon once more to do the same and more for the Justice League. The entire “New 52” strategy is laced with old approaches drawn up in a plan to reach new readers while keeping the old and faithful interested, though. The final recipe looks a lot like the ’90s with a rationed dose of Marvel’s Ultimate flavor.

So what does the post-Flashpoint DCU taste like? It’s difficult to say one issue into the new frontier, but they’re certainly starting out with mostly familiar ingredients.

‘Flashpoint’ #5 Review: Batman wept

Posted by – August 31, 2011

The end of the DC Universe’s final sprawling crossover event before its much-ballyhooed reboot arrived today in Flashpoint #5. Once more, the burden of DC’s Gordian continuity knot falls upon The Flash, and this is the tale of how he ultimately confronts Eobard Thawne and resolves one scrambled universe cluster-belch and ushers in a newer, shinier universe that DC’s execs hope will be more accessible to new superhero comic book readers.

Without spoiling anything for you, The Flash succeeds. (Well, we’ll see how many new readers the reboot attracts, but at least the continuity reset bomb has been detonated.)

Geoff Johns wrote this story, and it’s as Johnsian as anything DC has published in recent memory. If you pick up this issue expecting to see a marathon safari of goodbyes and Easter eggs littered across the DCU, checking off every last character in your old Skybox DC Comics trading card set, you will leave feeling disappointed. “Flashpoint” is a tale for Barry Allen fans, and in the end, the only characters you really need to be acquainted with to understand Flashpoint #5 are Allen and Batman.

The fight dialogue is awkward and stilted, and the crowd scenes cram in flocks of characters at a time without much effort at explaining who’s here and why (there have been four key issues and more tie-ins than I’ll stop to count right now to take care of that). Nevertheless, the final reckoning for Wonder Woman and Aquaman is ultra-hasty and almost comically abrupt.

That said, after the lightning-infused rumble concludes, the power in this issue lies after the staple. I’m not going to spoil anything too much for you, but the closing pages provide a glimpse at what’s to come in the “New 52” DCU as the Justice League members get reestablished and the post-“Flashpoint” world takes shape. As a look through the keyhole, so to speak, Johns finished on a potent note. He lands this crazy train of a crossover flaming hot, but he does so with enough momentum to keep things interesting. Furthermore, Andy Kubert’s informed pencils handle a crowded cast of old, new, and really new costumes formidably.

And that leads me to the one big (potential spoiler) question I have at the end of this book. Has DC decided to give Batman a post-Frank Miller chill pill going forward. Barry shares a brief moment with Bruce that won’t spoil here (you’re welcome), but the entire finale comes down to a defining moment where we see Bruce Wayne as emotionally vulnerable as we ever have—and in front of a fellow hero nonetheless. This event is obviously going to have lasting implications. Johns and DC chose these tears to be the opening curtain to Justice League and the rest of their new U, so I want to know—what is our Batman for a new generation going to be like out in the wild?

When can I download the new ‘Justice League’ #1?

Posted by – August 30, 2011

It looks like the answer is 2:00 p.m. Eastern.

DC Comics plan to implement day-and-date synchronization for their comics digitally and in print is still set to begin today. Alas, I just checked comiXology, and it doesn’t look like iPads are going to be competing with any of the midnight release parties going on around the country right now.

The DC Comics app itself (which is basically just another storefront for comiXology) currently shows no sign of Justice League #1, but DC section on the main app does appear to have some redesigned heroes peeing out. The box on the Featured page, meanwhile, clearly indicates that the new Geoff Johns/Jim Lee-made Justice League #1 will be out in about 12 hours.

I wonder if this is going to be typical roll-out model going forward. I don’t recall reading any interviews that articulated 2:00 p.m. release time. If you have, though, I’d very much like to see it.

Anyway, it looks like this book is going to be a paper buy tomorrow.

DC Comics’ ‘New 52’ reboot: Where do we go from here?

Posted by – August 30, 2011

As of tomorrow, DC Comics will be past the point of no return. In much the same way that their chief competitor Marvel rebooted its characters in 1996’s “Heroes Reborn” and then again in the Ultimate titles, DC will be scrapping everything and rebuilding their world from the ground up. Personally, outside of of Grant Morrison’s Batman work, Jeff Lemire’s Superboy, Paul Cornell’s DCU contributions and an occasional Gail Simone title, I have been pretty reluctant to pick up most DC titles ever since their entire rack got enveloped by “Brightest Day.” And even though my weekly pamphlet comics budget is a sliver of what it once was (both due to attending grad school this year and diversified comics interests in general), I’m going to pick up Justice League #1 and a handful of their new titles to see where things are going.

DC knows that their readership has been shrinking and that something needs to be done, but even The New York Times understands that their move is a gamble. DC has chosen wisely making their pizza-toting Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and Co-Publisher Jim Lee the faces and ambassadors of the overhaul. Their leadership should keep longtime readers interested out of the gate. Still, when Marvel launched Ultimate Spider-Man and The Ultimates, they still had Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers continuing their multi-decade runs on the side.

DC has punched the reboot button on continuity in various ways before, via “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” “Infinite Crisis” and other dimensional-realigning tales. As a reader, one of the more frustrating repercussions of this tendency has been origin stories and histories that are constantly in flux. Marvel, for all of their Wolverine, Spider-Man and Ultimate Universe books, has at least done a traditionally fine job of maintaining their timelines. Is this going to be the last time we see DC re-commit to continuity? I tend to think not, but I remain hopeful that they’ll at least keep a few more batons in play this time around.

Then there’s DC’s biggest play, which is offering synchronized date-and-date digital/paper releases. Archie Comics and various independent titles have made this a default plan already, but this is one of the first areas of digital where DC has decided to dive in head first ahead of Marvel.

Marvel already has an online library available to paying subscribers and numerous day-and-date experiments to leverage for data and publishing strategy purposes. They’ve also got a fleet of budding franchises in theaters (and DC has one in its third act with a rebooted fumble on the way). If DC manages to spark a sea change for the industry tomorrow, they will surprise a lot of people and could ignite a welcome and exciting new chapter in their age-old face-off against the House of Ideas.

I want better competition (especially on the digital front to help drive new-issue prices down) and better comics, so ultimately, I have to hope they bring in some big and deserved numbers in the coming weeks.

‘Plants vs. Zombies’ problems on OS X Lion: the solution

Posted by – August 7, 2011

Compatibility issues with OS X Lion left me in peace for the most part when I upgraded my late-2008 MacBook’s Apple-made operating system a couple of weeks back. One of my prized time guzzlers, “Plants vs. Zombies,” however, did summon a nasty incompatibility alert when I tried starting it up. I saw some message board postings and scattered complaints about this problem online, but I know that some of you following this blog are both Mac users and “PvZ” lovers, so here’s the solution that worked for my version (hat-tip and thanks to Russ Frushtick, who sent me down the right path).

1) If you originally downloaded the game from PopCap, go their website and sign in.

2) You should land on a page called “My PopCap Games Account.” Toward the bottom, you should see an order history. Click on the big, yellow “Details” button.

3) You should then see a small alert box that states:

“To download and re-install a previously purchased game, click the game name linked below.”

After you get to that point, it should be pretty self-explanatory. Click on the game title, and an updated, Lion-compatible version of the game should be sent on its way to your computer from PopCap.

Review: “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011)

Posted by – August 4, 2011

Hollywood has its formulas for action flicks, screenwriters have their story beat quotas and Marvel Studios superhero films have to straddle the demands of savvy readers paying to see characters they love and the demands of audience members who have never heard of Captain America’s younger sidekick. This year, Marvel tasked Kenneth Branagh’s “Thor” with bringing Jack Kirby’s glowing, cosmic version of Norse mythology to the masses, and director Joe Johnston took on the task of interpreting World War II in the Marvel Universe for a modern audience in “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

Somehow he managed to do that and deliver punches to Hitler’s face in stereo while leaving the international audience-friendly scenes in this film sterilized of swastikas. Thus, like the Super Nintendo version of “Wolfenstein 3D” before it, “The First Avenger” told a hard-hitting WWII tale without Nazi flags and depicted massive pre-V-Day combat in Europe without any sign of the SS within miles.

Instead, the Red Skull’s (Hugo Weaving) forces act as stand-ins for the Nazis, breaking ranks from Hitler’s Third Reich and going rogue so that they can take over the world.

Yes, the story beats are predictable. Yes, there is a final video-game-plot-ready boss level (so to speak) at the end, and yes, a national hero injects himself with strength-boosting chemicals in order to physically perform better in combat without suffering any of the side effects that professional baseball players and wrestlers experience when they engage in similar practices.

If you can get beyond this awkward plot point (does Isaiah Bradley exist in this universe?), which is a long-standing part of the Captain America origin story, “The First Avenger” is a fine family film. It also does an impressive job of visualizing the WWII era with Cosmic Cube-powered technology without making any of the scenes feel like they’re taking place in the future. When Captain America (Chris Evans) awakens in the present, you really begin to understand how well Johnston and his team really did in this respect.

I’ve written before about my problems with past Marvel film endings, where huge, abstractly conceived villains gain vast amounts of power out of nowhere, yell incoherent, cheaply written things very loud, and then proceed to get robbed of their power like the Wizard of Oz being discovered behind his curtain. To Johnston’s credit once again, “The First Avenger” avoids this pitfall.

The film does, however, alter Cap’s fate slightly. In the comics, he was disarming a bomb; in the movie, he finds himself (SORRY, SPOILER HERE FOR THE REST OF THE PARAGRAH) onboard a bomb-loaded plane bound for the U.S. and decides that he has to crash it. The plane doesn’t seem to explode when it nose-dives into the ice, which makes me question: Why couldn’t he have attempted a water landing or hard landing in rural Greenland or something? Perhaps he just didn’t receive pilot training, or maybe the Red Skull mentioned something off-screen about having only sabotaged the plane’s ability to turn left and right. Whatever the case may be, a few extra seconds of dialogue would have gone a long way in explaining why Cap decided that his only option was to do a nose dive. It kind of the Bear Grylls meme where he sees that the sun is setting and decides that he has to drink his own urine. Sometimes extreme action is necessary, but was it really the only choice in this case?

Forced though it may be, the action does get our hero to where and when he needs to be for the setup leading to Joss Whedon’s “Avengers” movie. It’s funny, because until after the credits roll (SPOILER AGAIN HERE) you would never know that there had been a “Thor” movie tied into “The First Avenger,” save one quick reference to the Cosmic Cube when the Red Skull is pulling it out of its resting place.

Casting-wise, the film has a lot to be proud of. There are certainly no January Jones-caliber performances this time around. Chris Evans does exactly what he needs to, and so does the anatomy-altering CGI that gets used to may him seem scrawnier prior to his procedure. Hugo Weaving sounds eerily like Christopher Waltz from “Inglourious Basterds” at times, but it words for the role.

All in all, Johnston lands the film on its feet with an powerful jolt at the end, and Whedon now has an accessible, yet worthy bar of quality to shoot for when “The Avengers” arrives in 2012.