May Movie Predictor

It’s summer, so yet again, I dust off my predictor hat and make a guess for what the big films are going to do, business-wise. Last year, I made a long list of bold predictions here. Some of them are fairly close to reality (Knocked Up’s opening, for instance), some are laughably off course (Transformers, anyone?) I didn’t make such a post in 2006, but I did predict that Hulk never would have a sequel here, which I suppose is both true and false at the same time. This year, I’m hoping I’ll guess a bit better, but I don’t hold out hope.

Regardless, for your enjoyment and mine, my movie previews. I’m going to break it up into months. It’s a bit much to try and write the whole summer in one go.

Weekend of May 2

Iron Man
I’m conflicted about Marvel’s latest cinematic foray. Sure, it looks good. Robert Downey Jr. seems to have Tony Stark down perfectly. The visuals look awesome. And they seem like they’ve got the story down.

But, really, can the actual film be better than this trailer? Just look at it, you’ve got the story, the humor, the character… And then at the end, the pitch-perfect use of Black Sabbath. It’s just five chords, but it totally sells the film, and encapsulates a little 2 minute masterpiece of advertising.

That basically sells the film, though. It’s also got one of the prime weekends of the year and the still strong Marvel branding.

Still, I’ve got some reservations. The follow-up ads haven’t been nearly as strong. And Iron Man isn’t nearly the top-tier character that Spider-Man and the X-Men are. Hell, he’s not even as recognizable as the Hulk. Plus, while the trailers look good, it makes the film look really dense, like they’re trying to cram too much story into it. We don’t want another Spider-Man 3, after all.

Plus, the Iron Man in the film is all but a different entity than the Iron Man in the comics, where Tony Stark has become a neo-conservative fascist overlord. And in a non-ironic way: he’s being pitched as the top tier hero in Marvel’s line-up.

Granted, that will really only be a problem if someone wants to read the books after the film. For the opening, at least, it doesn’t make a difference.

Opening: $80m. Final: $220m.

Made of Honor
A fairly good looking romantic comedy that’s being served up as counter-programming for anyone seeking a little less testosterone. It looks funny, but isn’t likely to make any headlines.

Opening: $15m. Final: $50m.

Weekend of May 9

Speed Racer
This might be the most visually astonishing film of the summer. It’s like a high dynamic range photograph come to life in full Vegas splendor. And then there’s the action. A number of my friends mentioned how Mario Kart-like it was from the time they saw the first trailer.

If nothing else, the Wachowski Brothers are know for their spectacle. Despite the wooden delivery of Keanu Reeves, The Matrix was a breakout blockbuster, and still the biggest film ever that opened in April (aka, Hollywood’s litter box). And even if the sequels disappointed from just about every other standpoint, they mostly looked really good.

Speed Racer looks even better. It’s also got a bit of retro-nostalgia, although that might be about 5-10 years too late. Even so, it’s a recognized brand, possibly with in even greater public knowledge than Iron Man.

On the downside, it’s a bit weird, when you think about it. The cartoon is 40 years old. It’s also the first time an anime has been chosen for the big screen treatment in the US (despite fits and starts on a number of other projects over the past 15-20 years). There are a lot of questions as to whether there’s any crossover appeal in store.

Plus, while it looks visually spectacular, some of the lines uttered in the trailer make Keanu look like Alec Baldwin. Racer X looks especially bad, so we might be in store for another effects driven action-fest with laughably bad acting.

Even so, while it’s not as high profile as the other May releases, it should do fairly well.

Opening: $50m, Final: $140m.

What Happens in Vegas
The big question here is… does Ashton Kutcher have a fanbase? Since he’s taken the turn away from being a TV doofus to focus on movies, he’s done fairly well for himself. The Butterfly Effect, Guess Who, Open Season, and The Guardian all opened between $15m and $25m and had final tallies between $50m and $90m. Of course, he hasn’t headlined a film since the last two were released in September of ’06, over 18 months ago.

Cameron Diaz has had a fairly successful movie career, but that’s less due to her pull and more that she’s been involved in some fairly high-profile releases.

On the whole it doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t look great, either. Plus, two rom-coms in successive weeks as counterprogramming seems a bit excessive.

Opening: $12, Final: $45.

Weekend of May 16

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
2005 was a weird year at the box office. It made news in mid-summer when someone noted how long it had been down compared to 2004. Even with the stellar performance of Revenge of the Sith, it wasn’t until the release of Fantastic Four that there was a year to year increase on the weekend for the summer.

While overall the year was a downer, there were some bright spots: Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Wedding Crashers all provided some bright lift in June and July.

During the Holidays, while King Kong floundered a bit, especially to expectations, there were two huge films: Harry Potter 4 was the biggest since the Sorcerers Stone, and Narnia broke out in a huge way in December.

Despite some very uneven special effects, it managed to force its nearly to the $300m mark by remaining mostly fun and enjoyable throughout. It was certainly more entertaining than reading the book.

Prince Caspian looks like they’ve dispensed with the problems and amped up the action to really make it feel like a fantasy epic on par with Lord of the Rings. It should bring in the people just wanting a huge experience with ease. And it’s got the other big factor in its favor: Christianity.

As Passion of the Christ showed, the Christian market can be huge. If given the right incentive, it will mobilize to drive a film to astonishing heights. The Narnia films have that in spades. Combining that with the enjoyable experience of the first probably means it’s going to be even bigger.

Opening: $100, Final: $310.

Weekend of May 23

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
While I expect Narnia to be the biggest film of the summer, this is by far the most anticipated. The first three Indy films stand as one of the great adventure trilogies and, at least in quality, stand up very well to the original Star Wars films.

While the road it’s taken getting to the screen, 19 years since The Last Crusade, has been long and fitful, it almost seems as if George Lucas’ extremely picky nature regarding the film has paid off. The trailer looks great, combining the self-depricating heroism with the pulp adventure perfectly.

And, really, who the hell can resist that musical theme?

The downside is the weekend. While it’s always huge, Memorial Day still strikes me as a poor weekend to release a film given the extreme drop that any film, regardless of quality, experiences afterwards.

However, expect it to open huge.

Opening: $90m (three day, $150m five day), Final: $280m.

Postal
Uwe Boll has made a career of constructing adaptations of video games that are terrible. He’s well denigrated by movie aficionados and gamers alike. It’d be sad, except I’m pretty sure he’s just doing it as a tax break for German companies. I honestly doubt any of his films have lost any money.

He’s taking a bit of a turn here. Instead of the typical so-bad-it’s-no-longer-even-funny fare he’s churned out, he seems to have gone with hey-let’s-make-it-bad-and-funny.

I have to acknowledge that it does look bad. But it also looks funny. It could be worth a watch once it’s been sitting on the DVD shelves for a few months and you can find it for a couple bucks.

Not that it matters. Boll’s name alone ruins the box office potential. The fact it’s going up against Indy is suicide.

Opening: $2m, Final $5m.

Weekend of May 30

Sex and the City
It’s taking the spot of last year’s phenomenal performer Knocked Up, and it’s got a strong brand, but I don’t predict a rosy future for Sarah Jessica Parker and friends. For one, there’s no Judd Apatow behind the scenes, which would help the crossover appeal for a rom-com tremendously.

The TV series is really successful, but that’s never meant a big response in the theaters. Still, there’s two blank weekends for this market beforehand, and it’s possible that neither Made of Honor nor What Happens in Vegas will really drag in the audiences. Between that and possible event overload, crowds may really want to go for something different after Memorial Day.

Opening: $20m, Final: $70m.

The Strangers
Bleh. Torture Porn. Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman are not draws, either.

Opening: $8m, Final: $20m.

Overall
It’s going to be a disappointing May. Not really, but last year was so huge that even with all the threequels not performing up to hype or expectation, it drove the box office to spectacular heights. The films this May are strong, but none are on the level with last year, business-wise.

Epic Failure

As the Secret Invasion has begun and we sit on the cusp of the Final Crisis, I’m going to take a step back and look rather hard at the state of (superhero) comics right now. I can’t help but think that the Big Two have really rather missed the whole point. It’s possible that we’re beyond some critical point and the future of comics is well and truly screwed.

I’d like to think differently, but the state of affairs in the two companies is so antithetical to actually being, um, successful.

Secret Invasion is the fourth of Marvel’s annual tie-in event miniseries (after House of M, Civil War, and World War Hulk), and the current culmination of story threads that Brian Michael Bendis has been laying out since Avengers Disassembled. That’s a storyline that’s been going back four years actively, and likely has threads going back even further (depending on what Bendis may have done before he started writing Daredevil and what he wants to mine from Marvel’s past.)

The initial response to the first issue has been fairly positive, indicating that Bendis has delivered the goods and presented what should be an enjoyable story. I expect that, much like the earlier miniseries, a good chunk of the story, and likely a few of the issues in the run, will be given over entirely to super-powered individuals beating the crap out of each other.

The series is going to sell very well. It’s got all the hallmarks of one of the most popular writers in comics (Bendis), a popular artist (Lionel Yu), a strong lead-up advertising campaign, and it’s got all the heavy-hitters from the Marvel U taking part. Fans are (and will) be eating it up.

Final Crisis hasn’t started yet, but it’s the culmination of a storyline that also ostensibly began in 2004 with Identity Crisis and Countdown to Infinite Crisis. While DC hasn’t quite done the annual event series like Marvel has, the leadup to Final Crisis is long. Infinite Crisis in 2005 led directly to the weekly series 52 which led directly to the weekly Countdown (to Final Crisis). There have literally been two years worth of weekly books from the end of the last huge event series to this one.

Expectations are high, but perhaps somewhat mitigated because Countdown has been rather lackluster. However, Final Crisis also has the popular writer (Grant Morrison), popular artist (J.G. Jones), and all the heavy-hitters doing lots of hitting each-other. The advertising campaign has been unsteady (the early ad “Who Lives, Who Dies, What Changes?” was particularly laughable), but ultimately it does seem to have similar promise to Secret Invasion.

Likewise, it’s going to sell well. As a story, it’s likely in good hands. Morrison is possibly the best writer working in the comics medium (at least as far as understanding how it works and how to get the best effect from it), plus he’s got an incredible love for superhero history. His bibliography is littered with stories he’s done that reference small forgotten tidbits from the past. I’d not be at all surprised if he somehow manages to tie in a number of such into the story here.

So we’ve got two high profile series, with high profile creators, doing big things with the big characters in big ways. Sales are guaranteed. The biggest question is which of the two is going to be bigger. (Marvel tends to be a big stronger in monthly sales, and Bendis is a bit more popular, currently, than Morrison, so I’d bank on Secret Invasion.) So what’s the problem?

The problem is who’s reading these things. Or rather, who isn’t.

Among the comic crowd, these are the sort of books that “everyone” will be picking up. Fans (or fanboys, really) who have been keyed into the Big Two for years and are keeping apace with all the nuances and hints dropped.

In short, these are books that are going to be lapped up by the current readership.

For everyone else, though, they’re a bit opaque.

And that’s a problem. These are the two highest profile series of the year. And they’re not being written at all for the potential fan. Even worse, said fan is likely to be completely confused if dropped into these.

The friendly staffer at my chosen comic shop has pointed out that Marvel has constructed Secret Invasion such that you don’t need to read any tie-in books to get the story (which was also the case for the three previous annual events). This may very well be true, but there’s still a fair bit of knowledge to even get the story.

Note this post by a comic newbie. While she finally, reading through it, gets’ the core CONCEPT of Secret Invasion (it’s a big series to get everyone together), she’s still rather lost on the whole: “As an outsider reading this, I felt just like that: an outsider.”

Marvel’s biggest book of the year, and it’s alienating to new readers. I really hope I’m not the only person who sees a problem with this. Hell, it’s practically designed to be offputting to the casual reader.

While I’m overall more optimistic about Final Crisis, largely because Morrison is a significantly better writer than Bendis, I’m only feeling good as the experienced comic fan. Were I a newcomer, I’d probably feel as lost and confused as the lady who wrote the aforementioned post. It’s a superhero prom, and there’s a whole year or two of schoolwork that needs to be done before you can go.

This isn’t new. Ever since the rise of the event miniseries (and crossover stories) in the mid-to-late 80s, and the coinciding rise of the direct market, the comic industry has been moving along a path that’s more insular and self-referential. There have been positive blips here and there, but by and large the big two have continued to cater increasingly towards the extant fans rather than actively encourage new fans.

The companies might disagree with this, citing the lines such as Marvel Adventures, Ultimate Marvel, and Johnny DC, but the fact is that the bulk of their advertising and energy is dedicated to the core lines.

(Marvel may Ultimate Line might be an exception, but after eight years, it’s carrying a fair amount of baggage of its own. While it may only have a few ongoing books, it is at the point where knowledge of the history is fairly critical to understanding the actions in a given book. Additionally, while Ultimate Spider-Man may still be appealing and aimed at a newcomer market, the other Ultimate books are very uneven in tone comparatively. If I were introducing someone to Ultimate Spider-Man, I’d be a bit concerned if that person later picked up the Ultimates and found a horny Hulk wanting to eat Freddie Prinze Jr. It just doesn’t mesh.)

That’s really a shame, because the two junior lines are chock full of some fantastic comic material. DC’s recent Tiny Titans is wonderful, a book of sheer joy that I’ve not experienced outside of Azuma’s Yotsuba&. And anything Jeff Parker writes for Marvel Adventures distills superheroic action down to its core principles without requiring a huge backstory. In DC’s case, these junior books are largely tie ins to the phenomenally successful (and usually very well written) animated series, but

Of course, once you venture into the main universes, there’s a slippery slope between the good and the tied in. Any book that demonstrates an ability to sell due to strong internal quality will invariably be given a crossover with another book to try and get some readers to try both. Conversely, any book that has strong internal quality but isn’t selling will get a crossover with another, more popular book to try and boost its sales.

Historically, neither case is likely to make the book better, or even keep it at the current level. The recent crossover between Checkmate and Outsiders showcases this extremely well. The quality for the storyline was well below the previous Checkmate stories. (Admittedly, it was a step up from previous Outsiders stories.)

Arguably, the crossovers aren’t likely to boost flagging sales in either direction. Indeed, it can backfire and cause a loss of fans. Many years ago, I was an avid Birds of Prey reader, but over one six month period I was greeted by four different crossover issues in two different Batman storylines. I had little interest in reading any other books in the line except Catwoman, and decided that BoP wasn’t worth it. (It took Gail Simone to get me back, and even that wasn’t immediate.)

This isn’t to say that all crossovers are bad. Sometimes a story can be constructed to gain the benefits of multiple books. But the reality is that most of these are marketing gimmicks. Designed to get the existing fans to buy as many different titles as possible, in hopes that they will keep buying said titles.

The miniseries event works much the same way. Many books in the company’s line will be tied into it in some fashion. Marvel did this brilliantly, from a marketing standpoint, with Civil War: well emblazoned logo across all titles showing that each book took part in this mega-event.

However, where does this leave the casual fan? What is one to do if there’s only one or two titles, out of the entire line, that appeal at all? The event has large ramifications that aren’t readily apparent. Sure, there’s the chance the reader could buy into the whole shebang and crossover to being a big fan, but that’s not likely.

If a newcomer starts in on comics, without familiarity, how do you introduce them? What books do you showcase?

More than likely, you might be showing them something from Marvel Adventures. Good books, sure, but they may get the distinct sense that they’re not catered to. And the industry isn’t constructed to get them to transition to the main lines. Some books are for kids and casual readers, the rest are for the fans who’ve been here for 20 years (and are shrinking as a group.)

Welcome to the recipe for disaster.

For long term growth (or at least sustainability), it would be more beneficial if books were allowed to live on their own terms, without the event tie-ins and crossovers. If the standalone fun of the Marvel Adventures were allowed to exist in the main universes.

It’s not likely. There’s a cycle of incestuous support to the industry. Fans buy into the big events, which boost sales numbers at the expense of smaller books, so the companies produce more of such work, which appeals to the fans, but not anyone else. And any smaller books are likely to be folded as the sales droop, which loses more fans.

I’m not saying that ALL events are bad. Marvel’s Annihilation was a brilliant story. But it succeeded largely because it was entirely self-contained. The mini-series involved only related to each-other. Likewise, Seven Soldiers of Victory was incredibly enjoyable. Both of these stories managed to provide the epic wonders that all events promise, without intruding on other books in the line, even though the effects of the stories could be felt elsewhere.

While such things could happen more, I’m not optimistic. I fully expect that next year we’ll be talking about the next big Marvel Event. Trinity will be coming to a close and DC will be pumping the next weekly series which will lead into another big event series. It’s a shame, because in that time, a number of highly enjoyable books with marginal numbers will be canceled.

After a while, these stop being epics. They just become epic failures.

The Partial Vindication of Awards Ceremonies

By and large, awards ceremonies, and the awards given, are crap. Rare are the times when a ‘Best’ anything is truly the best in the given timeframe. Just look at the Oscars, which have been haphazardly picking films and actors clearly not the best in the previous year. The voting systems will invariably choose what is popular (and somewhat good) rather than what could objectively considered the best.

The video game industry is no stranger to this, and when I was able to view the Game Developer’s Choice Awards in 2007, I witnessed first hand the failure of the voters, when they chose Gears of War as the Game of the Year. Not that Gears of War was a bad game, but it’s frightfully derivative in most cases, adding only a few new elements (and pretty scenery) to a very well-established genre.

Compare that to Wii Sports, which was incredibly innovative and well designed all around, plus the ushering title to all the grand promise that the Wii brings. (I admit a bit of the shine has come off the Wii in the past year, but it’s still full of exciting potential.)

In the year since those awards, I lost any hope that a truly good game would hit the spot. In that time, I’ve heard BioShock and Call of Duty IV, very well constructed games, considered frontrunners for the top prize. Rather than spend another disheartening evening watching the awards, I chose to do other things. Sure, there was a possibility that Rock Band would win something, because it is sheer awesome, but even I’d hesitate to say it’s worthy of the title ‘Best Game of the Year’. The equipment problems, lack of a few ideal gameplay elements, and some song choices leave it just short.

Imagine my surprise when I found out what had actually won the next day. Such was my disregard, that I’d not even taken the time to look at the nominees, so I was surprised that Portal even had a nomination, much less managed to take home the prize.

Granted, in my opinion, it’s not really a close contest. Portal is, to be blunt, one of the best games every designed. The other titles were the two aforementioned refined FPS games (BioShock and Call of Duty IV, neither of which really deserved to be there. BioShock was little more than System Shock II with an Art Deco look and some critique of Objectivism thrown in for flavor. And in very few cases would I grant a game with a roman numeral in the title enough creativity and innovation to deserve such a spot.

Rock Band is a spectacularly fun experience, but it’s not perfect. And Super Mario Galaxy is a very polished platformer that shows how they can be built for the Wii, but it’s not the best work of Miyamoto’s.

The surprise missing titles, for me, were Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed.

Portal still is a bit of a surprise. I’d have expected the entire Orange Box to get such a nomination, rather than the component parts, if only because it’s often pitched as this One With Everything product, of which Portal is just the extra fun element thrown in for good measure.

Regardless, it’s a wonderful choice. True, the format isn’t original, since the greated FPS ever devised (Goldeneye) was released over a decade ago, and since then it’s mostly been tweak and refinement to appeal to a narrower and narrower crowd of fans. But since there’s no shooting, few direct enemies, and a completely different style of play, I’m inclined to accept that the FPS elements are just the medium, not the message. Valve’s a company that only does FPS’s anyway, and they can be credited for doing some very interesting things with Team Fortress 2 to get rid of a lot of the excess of the genre besides.

So, innovative gameplay, easy accessibility, some excellent framing and design (the warning signs alone are worth the price of admission), the best song to ever come out of the video game industry (coming soon to a Rock Band game near you), and the best writing I’ve ever witnessed.

Yes, the best writing. And here’s the rant part of this rant.

You see, while Portal was considered the Best Game and the Most Innovative Game, it apparently wasn’t considered the Best Written game.  For some reason, that award went to BioShock.

I’m sorry, what? BioShock? Sure, it had some excellent dialogue, a few neat character arcs, and some clever commentary on 50s culture, but the ending was absolute shit. Plus, the one big choice the player has in the game is so clearly black and white that it’s amazing Peter Molyneux isn’t on the design team.

Portal, in comparison, is an exemplary piece of writing. The character arc of GLaDOS is spectacular, the dialogue is perfect, and the small elements they throw in (“The Cake is a Lie”) are awesome.

Seriously, I’d had part of the game spoiled completely for me before I played, and the first time I saw one of the secret rooms, chills went down my back. I spent a good part of the game alternating between hysterical laughter and a desperate desire not to crap my pants.

THAT, my friends is emotional reaction. And BioShock doesn’t have any of that. Hell, they had to use mood music to tell the player when things are supposed to be creepy.

A friend of mine brought up a point about this. He allowed that Portal is well written, but it’s only about two hours long (or 18 minutes on a speed run). BioShock is many hours long and it’s chock full of great character dialogue, so that has to count for something.

I’m sorry, but it doesn’t. Portal is a short story, true, and BioShock is a novel, but it’s still a novel with a crap ending. Portal is a story stripped down to just the necessary elements to get the point across. BioShock is an excess of cleverness to the point of bloat.

To paraphrase a number of writing teachers, it’s easy to write long, it’s hard to write well.  Portal isn’t long, but I’d argue that it’s harder to write a story that short that has all of that greatness into it. Any longer, and it’s likely that the story (and the game) would suffer because of it.

I can only assume that the votes for Portal got split with Half Life 2 Episode 2, leaving BioShock the undeserving winner.

Even so, the Game of the Year award is much deserved, and brings a bit of legitimacy back to awards ceremonies.

Continuity Dreams and Nightmares

In the wake of the ongoing travesties of that are happening on both sides of the superhero aisle (OMD’s destruction of anything resembling a comprehensible sequence of events at Marvel and the Eternal Crisis at DC), I’ve been giving a fair bit of thought to continuity and writers.

Continuity is a tricky thing. For a good 40 years or so, it didn’t matter a whole lot. Arguably, the entire period between the end of WWII and the start of the silver age, it didn’t matter at all. Even after that into the early 80s, it remained a rather mutable concept. Sure, there was cause and effect, but the concept of continuity that spanned the entire line of books didn’t quite grab hold.

Starting in the 80s, though, a number of things happened. The X-Men began to sell like gangbusters, which prompted a number of related books. With Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, the concept of the universe-spanning mini-series was discovered and with it the tie-in. Soon after, the crossover was established.

The crossover and the mini-series established the key ingredients that thrust our lovable comics into the 90s and continue, more or less, to be the key for any large sales to this day. Certainly nearly every major storyline of the past fifteen years has been one or the other, if not both. For some characters with multiple tiles, crossovers are often more the rule rather than the exception (I’m looking firmly at you, Spidey and Bats.)

The natural upshot is that the books need to have some related consistency. If Latte Lady breaks a nail in The Nifty Nailbiters, then by golly that better remain true in The Stupendous Seat-edgers. If Awesome Man dies in his own title, his best friend the Dimly Lit Intimidator may need to know about it in his own.

This rising integration in continuity has a lot of benefits. From a storytelling perspective, there’s a whole lot of options that open up when a writer can start taking part in a bigger sandbox. Stories that would be too big for a single title can now be told. If the Nailbiters and Awesome Man team up but need to split up to do separate objectives, then those can be handled in their own series, at the same time. This ability to tell multiple story strands at the same time, leading towards some ultimate conclusion allows superhero stories to massively increase in depth.

More than that, the crossover, especially, is a boon to business. If you’ve got a strong character who sells well every month, you can always have her show up in a few other books now and then, but have her title cross over with those books, and you could get the readers of each to try the other and possibly stick around.

Amazing stuff, these crossovers. Personally, some of my fondest memories of comics are when I read Uncanny X-Men in the late 80s and I really got into the mutant books with Inferno. It wasn’t enough to just read X-Men. I also had to read X-Factor to understand what was going on. And to find out what happened to Colossus, I needed to read New Mutants. As it happens, I stayed with all three books for a good long time. Inferno was clearly successful, enough that the mutant books especially began to feature them every year or two for the next decade or so.

Plus, there’s a decided advantage to telling a story that is too big for one creator. You can have multiple viewpoints, multiple people working together to create something that could be greater than the sum of its parts.

But there’s a number of downsides. While it’s great that a story could have multiple layers and interweaving plot points, all too often it comes out to be a bit messy, with contradicting elements, missed characterization, and things that just don’t make sense. In the mini-series, it’ll often come about that there are so many characters showing up that few, if any, of them get enough space to really shine and act as they should.

Plus, the bigger the story, the more far-reaching the effects, and thus the greater need for editorial oversight, which leads to more controlled and constrained writers. In essence, the scope of these projects tends to stifle creativity, even if the event itself turns out to be pretty good.

On the business-side, there’s the converse of the event getting readers to try another title. What if, instead of the crossover getting readers to hop on board both books, they instead decide that neither title is worth the effort and jump ship entirely. I read Birds of Prey rather faithfully from the beginning, but the number of crossovers that happened with other Batman titles essentially gave me a choice. I didn’t have the money or desire to follow every Bat-title, so I could either continue with it and be thoroughly confused as to what happened between issues, or I could stop entirely.

I’m not really inclined to write off the big event entirely, but there needs to be a degree of moderation. DC’s 3+ year continuity project has made me leery of trying out new titles, and I’ve tended to try and follow ones that are reasonably likely to remain unaffected and alone. On the Marvel side, I’ve found that Civil War has killed just about any interest I ever had in following The Avengers and any character related to them.

However, the smaller-scale events have worked out fine. Annihilation was just about the most enjoyable story I’ve read in years, and I’m waiting to see what the Sinestro Corps storyline is like once it hits the trades. It’s possible to do an event, but there just needs to be some consideration against doing too much.

And, as One More Day has shown, editorial mandate isn’t good for anything. The writers generally need to have some freedom to explore and get creative with the characters. Dictating that the writers must do x and y and keep in tap with all the other titles running leads to problems, because, by and large, most comic writers cannot or will not be able to handle that sort of overhead on their books. There are some, but they’re few and far between.

I could probably trust Grant Morrison to handle just about any continuity issues. Kurt Busiek, too. If only because of his comments regarding One More Day, JMS seems like he’d be up to the task. And possibly Mark Waid. However, we’re talking about four men out of tens of professional comic writers who are adept enough to write a story that fits into continuity while also changing it. This is an extremely limited skill that very few possess.

Geoff Johns and Keith Giffen might be able to, but they also seem to shine best when they’re given a section of a universe to play with. Preferably a cosmic one or (in Giffen’s case) a comedic one.

I’m not going to criticize writers who don’t do this. While I’d trust Morrison to handle such a task (and Final Crisis likely will be), some of my other favorite comic writers probably couldn’t. I don’t think Brian Vaughan could (he’s a bit gun-shy when handling characters he doesn’t create.) Nor Brian Wood. Warren Ellis probably could, but his disdain for the conventions of the superhero genre makes me question whether it’d work. Gail Simone, The Best Writer in Superhero Books, might not be up to it, but I’m curious to see how she’d fare if given the chance.

The problem is that despite the obvious way that Big Continuity causes problems for the individual writers, it’s become this massive driving force from both within (editorial) and without (the fans.) On the inside, it’s this stifling way of sucking the fun and creativity out of any story, even if it’s something that should be as fun as superheros kicking the shit out of each other (see exhibit 1: Civil War). On the outside, it’s the promise that if anything doesn’t quite work, the fan community is going to jump all over it.

I’ve found myself questioning my resolve and desire to keep up on things. Conceptually, the Big Event is awesome. In theory, it should be great. But in theory, communism works. In practice, there’s those few events that actually work (Annihilation), more that are just kinda meh (Infinite Crisis), and still more that just kinda numb my whole brain when I start to think about them (Civil War, Countdown, One More Day).

What I’ve been left with is a desire to just find those select few things that are actually good. I’ll follow specific writers around, check out those titles which are remaining consistently strong, and just keep abreast as I can.

It’s a shame, because I’ve had my time as a continuity nut, digging how all those threads relate and create a stronger story. But the DC fan in me has spent the past three years hearing that if I just keep going a bit longer, everything will fit together and make sense. Sure, it’s possible Grant Morrison will actually do that in Final Crisis, but what if it’s just a precursor. After the next couple of weekly series, what if there actually IS an Eternal Crisis? And in 2012, will I be eagerly anticipating Gail Simone’s Crisis Forever?

Over at Marvel, I’m left wondering what’s good. Civil War is a black stain, from which there’s very little to redeem. One More Day has just told me that anything I could have cared about can be whisked away. And I really can’t get up the interest in Secret Invasion. Bendis isn’t a writer I have a lot of faith in to handle multiple heroes. A small number, with deeply personal stories, possibly a lot of crime, sure. Teams? His track record is lacking. Disassembled was almost as bad as Civil War, and House of M was unfortunately little more than a compelling Elseworlds idea.

On the other hand, I suppose I can thank Joe Quesada for teaching me to stop caring. At the House of Ideas, it’s clear that few, if any, ideas are going to do much more than cause a temporary hiccup to the status quo.

Because of that, I’m going to take a new view on continuity. I call it the Current Writer theory. Basically, continuity on a title or character only matters inasmuch as it matters to the current writer. If they want to delve deep into the backstory and pick out little elements here and there to build up the richness, so much the better. If they just want to tell stories in the here and now, fine.

What would be grand, though, is if everything was free reign. If a writer could come in, figure out how to make all the pieces fit, or at least some of them, and just tell that story, then move onto the next.

What if… what if EVERYTHING was true?

Oh, yeah. DC tried that. About ten years ago.

When Good Games Go Bad

This post is about Rock Band, which has eaten up a not inconsequential portion of my free time of late.  Despite the title of the post, I have few complaints about the game. It is not quite the best game ever made, but there is such a depth of play there and the promise of continuing DLC means it should remain as such for quite some time.

Review in brief: Bravo Harmonix!  There are few missteps here.

This post is also about comic books. And with that there are probably a few who will understand where I am going with this.

As  I said above, there are few missteps. Before I had the chance to play Rock Band, due to being geographically away from my venue of choice from its release until after the new year, I made do with Guitar Hero III, the slightly off-kilter third sibling of Rock Band’s predecessor franchise. While there are many problems with GHIII, there are two things it does very well. Those two things, I must say, find Rock Band lacking.

The first is the peripheral construction. While I have few things bad to say about the previous controllers, the GHIII Les Pauls are a thing of beauty. The action is smooth, the weight is good, and they are all around comfortable to play.  In comparison the Fender Stratocasters that come with RB are, to be polite, very cheap feeling. Beyond the well documented breakdowns and other troubles, the guitars do not have that sense of strength, beginning with the action on the frets and being most noticeable with the weak strum bar.

The second is the way hammer ons and pull offs were changed in GHIII. In the first Guitar Hero, I found them impossible. In the second, they were troublesome, but on occasion would work as expected. Neversoft decided to make them even more forgiving such that it feels rather fun to get them rather than a difficult gamey element. It is perhaps one area where choosing to go for a less realistic method of doing the music turned out for the better.

However, both these are beside the real point. In spite of these problems, Rock Band shines, even when it causes me problems. I tend to play bass, and while I’ve been playing above my head on some songs at Expert level, jamming with my friends is fun for a long time.

The song selection is very good. I could probably play Learn to Fly and Here it Goes Again many, many times without getting tired of them. I may slowly be growing to dislike Sabotage because of the difficulty and repetitiveness of the bassline, but it’s still a fun song to listen to. Run to the Hills and Green Grass on High Tides may both give me problems for a while, but it’s a nice challenge to try and beat them.

As with the Guitar Hero games, it’s nice to get the combination of songs I know and like to go with some I didn’t expect but find I also like.

But nothing’s perfect. Guitar Hero II brought me Psychobilly Freakout, which isn’t enjoyable to listen to and even less fun to play. Guitar Hero gave me No One Knows, which almost soured me on Queens of the Stone Age for life. In III I found Raining Blood, which combined all the worst elements of a repetitive punk song with the off-kilter timing of Institutionalized.

In each, I am brought to wonder why the designers felt the need to include this song in the game. With QotSA, I can at least say the song sounds nice (and in their favor, other songs are more enjoyable), and probably could feel the desire to keep chugging at it just because of that. What’s really bad is when there is a song that is no fun to play because I don’t want to listen to it.

While I was unable to play Rock Band due to my geographic non-proximity, my roommates did give me a bit of a running tally on how things went. The only mentioned one blight, one song that they would not, could not, play. A song so bad and annoying they’d skip it no matter what.

Curious, I checked the song out on Youtube. For the first thirty seconds, it doesn’t seem that bad. Some fairly neat instrumental introductions, hitting a nice hard rock groove. I could start to get along with that.

And then the vocals start. I swear I had to shut the window within seconds they were so bad. I honestly wondered what sort of people could choose to subject themselves to this regularly. It wasn’t just a weak singer, it was honestly a bad voice to use as a vocalist.

I wondered if it was just me (and my roommates) but after a bit of checking around with others, no, the song really is that bad and I wasn’t able to find anyone in my circle of friends who could stand to listen to the whole thing. I shrugged, chalked it up to a misstep in song choice, and forgot about it until I got home.

While playing through Rock Band, though, I began to get curious. It was certainly possible that we’d get the song on random, and it’d help  to have at least passing familiarity with it. So I started to look into this blighted song again.

I’m speaking about Coheed and Cambria’s Welcome Home. And in the interest of fairness, I will list its strengths. As a progressive/hard rock band, C&C has talent. They play well, have some good riffs and rhythms, and could probably be an enjoyable band.

On the other hand, the vocals are atrocious. Singer Cladio Sanchez has a high pitched voice, which isn’t a problem alone, but he’s also got a thin and weedy timbre. There’s very little depth. To make matters worse, his vocal range (judging from Welcome Home at least) is very narrow. So there’s a high-pitched screeching that extends through most of the song.

It kills just about any interest I have in listening.

Of course, the problems don’t end there. Welcome Home is from the album Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness. And no matter how many times I look at that, it does not make sense. The words look like English, but there is no meaning.

Apparently, this isn’t abnormal for C&C. Their subsequent album is called Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow. I’m really not sure what the title is supposed to imply, except to give off some vague sci-fi reference. This used to be common in music. David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars for instance. However there’s a big difference. The title of Bowie’s album makes sense. It is a cohesive title that doesn’t have a random string of works and numerals together.

In my searching, though, it seems that C&C is not inspired by sci-fi. Their albums are apparently directly tied into an ongoing science fiction epic being written by the aforementioned vocalist, Claudio Sanchez. I admit I haven’t read, nor do I have any desire to read, the works he’s put out, but I’ve tried to piece together the series.

Coheed and Cambria’s music ties into a series of comic books called The Amory Wars. The name of the band is taken from two characters in this series Coheed Kilgannon and Cambria Kilgannon. They have a son who seems to be a sort of messianic character who must accept his mantle and face off against the Big Bad to avenge Coheed and Cambria’s murders.

All right. That’s fairly uninspired for sci-fi, but given that C&C are (presumably) musicians first, it’s probably not too big of an issue. I could even ignore the original title for The Amory Wars: The Bag.On.Line Adventures. Please notice all the periods in place of spaces. I suppose it might be a reference to the same in a hypertext link, but really it just looks dumb. Even so, the title was changed to something a bit more run of the mill but that also makes considerable more sense.

So, we’ve got this hero character, Claudio Kilgannon,  who…

Wait, what? That name seems really familiar. Hero named Claudio written by singer/writer named… Claudio?

And here’s where the wheels start to come off. As best I can tell, The Amory Wars is a massive self-insert story. If it isn’t, I’d have assumed that Mr. Sanchez could have come up with a different name. Or, hell, just coming up with a different name would perhaps mask the fact that it’s a self-insert story.

There are two major problems with self-inserts. The first is one of balance. As anyone who’s read fanfiction for any length of time knows, by and large, self-insert characters are favored by the writer to such a degree that any other characters (usually those belonging in the original universe) tend to be overshadowed. Lots of power, luck, skill, charisma, what have you. These characters will display any number of these traits in such a degree that it stretches credibility.

The classic self-insert is the Mary Sue, which comes from Star Trek. It got the name because the editors of the novels could almost always disregard 90% of the manuscripts they received because they would invariably have a new, female character who graduated at or near the top of her class in Starfleet Academy, proved to be a popular addition to the Enterprise crew, would have a romantic liaison with the favored male character of the author’s choice, and would prove to be critical in solving the climax of the story.  These novels were almost always submitted by women. And while they may not have been atrociously bad, the fact that they resembled each-other to such a degree is staggering and leads one to disregard them as a whole. Thus, the Mary Sue character: the self-insert.

In and of themselves, self-inserts are power fantasies and not problematic. However, they are almost invariably stories written for the author, not for the audience. I’ve heard that in BDSM culture, there’s a saying of Your Kink is not My Kink. Here it’s that Your Power Fantasy is not My Power Fantasy.

By and large, I am not going to be interested in a story about some messianic character based on you. There are a few people in the world about whom I would find such a story interesting, and many of my friends are not those people. The further you get away from me, and the more it becomes a “You had to be there” situation. Do I understand this power fantasy? No, I don’t get why you should be cast as a world savior.

And thus, The Amory Wars have already lost me. They may be a fine piece of juvenile science fiction that Claudio Sanchez has written for himself. His friends may dig that he’s such a creative machine, but I don’t get why his stories are in my video games, ruining my ears.

It seems that the only published parts of the story are a bit of chapters two and four (of five). The music may add a bit more completeness, but on the whole it seems that there’s just a bunch of inspiration around a plot that isn’t quite enough to carry the story from Sanchez’ mind to the theoretical public. Telling a story out of chronology should be a technique to use, not come about by happenstance.

Not that that would be entirely bad, I’m none too sure that his grasp of language is any better than his grasp of storytelling technique. Just the title of the album is enough to cause concern. I’m not really sure if it’ll ever be completed, but given that Sanchez has had to self-publish so far, I doubt it’s going to set the world on fire if it ever does.

Now, I did say this was about Rock Band, so I’ll turn to the specific song that’s caused me no end of pain.

Welcome Home is one of the first few tracks off the album where, if I’m  reading this correctly, the story takes a step outside of the strict narrative and is instead narrated by The Writer in the first person. Since Sanchez is the writer, I can only assume he’s talking about himself, in some fashion.

So now we’ve got him singing, and writing, about himself as the writer of a story which is about a messianic version of himself.

Whoa, meta. This could almost be good.

Let’s see what the writer, I mean The Writer has to say:

You could have been all I wanted
But you weren’t honest
Now get in the ground
You choked off the short list of favors
But if you really loved me
You would have endured my will

Wow. That seems kinda dark and bleak.  Continuing on:

Well if you’re just as I presumed
A whore in sheep’s clothing
Fucking up all I do
And if it’s here we stop
Then never again
Will you see this in your life?

So, there’s some anger here. It seems he’s gotten burned romantically and is holding a bit of a grudge. I can understand being a bit bummed from a letdown, but let’s look at the language here.

There’s a lot of dominance and command in the voice. Talk of enduring his will, ordering to get into the ground. He’s also placing the unnamed woman as the downside of the virgin/whore dichotomy. She wasn’t honest, therefore she must be a whore! She’s fucking up everything for him.

It’s all her fault!

This really bugs me. Ignoring how confused I am how this fits into the whole sci-fi story above, this is hugely misogynistic. It doesn’t get any better as the song continues, with more threats of violence and painting the still unnamed female as a traitor to him.

I’ll grant that there may be some separation between Sanchez, The Writer, and Claudio Kilgannon, but the first person narrative here and general negativity towards women just sicken me. Even if his voice wasn’t so bad, the message is so squicky that I really don’t want to know more.

What’s funny is that this song alone answers the question about whether C&C are a prog metal band or an emo band. The sexism, lamenting about romance, and general whinyness plant it firmly in the camp of Emo. It’s not good emo, either.

And that’s really a shame, because, as I noted above, C&C do seem to have some musical talent. I think that, in a different setting, with a different front-man, the people involved could be rather enjoyable. They could go and pull an Audioslave. That’s what made RATM palatable to me.

Rock Band will survive. I think I’ll play the song the bare minimum and hope it doesn’t inflict itself upon me while I’m playing.

Shame, though. It’s a strike against Harmonix. Upon reflection, it bugs me a lot more than the shoddy guitar quality.

JLA #15 review

Reading the latest issue of Justice League of American (#15), I was struck by how dissonant it seemed.

On one hand, we’ve got Dwayne McDuffie’s script, which is another step in moving the comic from the completely forgettable Meltzer run to something that’s palatable. The story isn’t great. This is a light issue, without much in the way of plot details (in fact, it very specifically dovetails into two other titles at the end, without resolution), but it’s got some kinda fun rock-em, sock-em action going on.

It’s also got moments of The Sexy going on. The girls are doing the cool shits, and whooping baddies all around. Not so much for the damsels in distress, here. We’ve got proactive heroines doing the right thing.

Sexy.

On the other hand, we’ve got Ed Benes’ art, which has taken another step in moving the book towards an ass-shot in every panel (and, depending on how limber he makes the portrayed character, tits as well). In this issue, the art is almost overwhelmingly, objectifyingly sexist, to the point that about halfway through (and this is just a 22-page story, mind), I began to feel a bit numb from the whole thing.

So, page by page:

Page 1 is remarkably sans-ass! Of course it’s sans female. Luthor has Superman at his whim until Firestorm turns a bunch of kryptonite into a butterknife. I sat for a moment and wondered about this reverse-alchemy. How much money did Luthor lose in that moment? Kryptonite’s got to be one of the rarest minerals in the universe, and he just transposed it to common steel, probably not even stainless or a good alloy. We’re looking at a loss of a few million, easy, probably a few billion.

Of course, I’m also wondering, why the hell Luthor, with nearly uncountable sums of wealth, would use it to create a kryptonite knife to stab Superman with? Surely his evil genius could come up with something with more, dare I say it, panache?

From the expressions on Luthor’s face, he might just be realizing how much money he’s lost here.

Page 2. Splash of all the villains in this short-lived Injustice League. Is it just me, or are these a bunch of serene-looking baddies? Seriously, they’re about to (try) to whoop some ass. And most of them, even the guys, just look kinda mildly amused.

Hell, Cheshire, Poison Ivy, Fatality, and Giganta all have the exact same expression. This expression says to me “I’m listening to music and this song brought a thought of an amusing little anecdote about what happened on the way to work.” not “Hoo, yeah, We’re about to TOTALLY wail on Superman and Firestorm!”

And Ivy’s stance is just completely wrong, too. She’s getting ready to fight! Not waiting at the bus stop while listing to her iPod! Also, what’s up with her crotch? It’s brighter than the rest of that region and perhaps kinda puffy. I’d be a bit worried about that. She should see a doctor.

Cheshire’s a bit better. Confident, fists on hips. See, right there her eyes should be narrow, focused. Mouth pressed into a thin, determined line. Expression just blaring “Hey, superheroes! I’m the deadliest assassin on the face of the planet. I have figuratively (and in one case literally) fucked you over for YEARS. Another serving coming up!”

Cheetah’s at least got the readiness down. Somewhat ruined by her stance. Okay, let’s try this. You’re about to charge into a fight. Stand up and get ready. Pretend you have claws and are kinda fast and strong, too. Me? I’m going to have my weight centered, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width with one slightly in front of the other. Hunched over slightly with a slight lean forwards. Arms tucked, hands slightly in and in front of my chest. Perhaps right be low neck level.

I am fucking NOT going to have my hand down and elbows out. There’s no power in that, no way to get some force into my strikes. Plus, I’m leaving my central area WIDE open for a quick attack.

What’s more, my legs are not going to be leaning towards one side with my weight awkwardly thrust backwards and then leaning my torso forward. Again, no strength, nothing to get any power out of. And I’d be off-balance in case of quick counter.

All this seems to say is “I’m angry! Look at my ass!”

Icicle doesn’t seem so bad, mostly because she’s already in motion. She’s going forward with her attack, but I’m a bit mystified by why her right arm is down and away.

So for the good side of the womens, we’ve got Cheetah’s expression, Cheshire’s stance, and Icicle’s movement. The rest is a bunch of bad.

On the men side, they’re not that much better, except nobody’s really thrusting attributes out for no good reason.

I do rather like the effeminate-Joker, though.

Page 3. Look at this first panel. We’ve got Firestorm, facing off against the baddies. Look at the sides. Deathstroke and Dr Light are cool, confident, working in some entrapment of power.

In the center, nearly even against Firestorm is Luthor, looking really pissed. That’s quite a change from his slightly bemused expression on page 2. How much time has passed here?

And there’s Ivy, coquettishly bored at the antics of all these mammals. Icicle is still continuing her mad charge. Her pose isn’t too bad. Now you can see her right arm is, since now she’s using that instead of her left to move her ice stream. Her left is a bit far away, but could be ready to fling an attack from that angle, discus style.

Cheetah has squared up her stance, but her arms are way out and low. Plus, now her upper-arms look like sticks. Dr Light, of all people, has forearms the size of her waist, and she’s got toothpicks.

There’s something else that bugs me, here. Look at the position of the bad guys here and on page 2.

On 2, we’ve got, L-R: Luthor, Ivy, some fuzzy guy I want to call Mammoth, but probably isn’t, Dr Light, Deathstroke, Mr Freeze, Giganta, some dark guy, Fatality, Cheshire, Cheetah, Icicle, Grodd, and Joker. (in a few layers. since apparently they’re standing on risers for a better picture)

And here we’ve got Dr Light on the far left with icicle behind him, who’s apparently whipped around to the complete other side of the group. Then there’s Ivy and the dark guy, who’s much forward and to the left of his current position. Luthor and not-Mammoth are now in the center. Grodd and Cheetah have about the same positions, but Deathstroke has magically teleported to the far right. Joker, Cheshire, Freeze, Fatality, and Giganta are nowhere to be seen.

So what happened? Again, how much time has passed so the villains can array themselves out in the proper line? And if that’s the case, why aren’t they attacking? Luthor said that Superman would only survive for another 30 seconds.

Firestorm talks for a bit while Icicle takes the first stab at cooling him down. Nice attack, but the way she’s got her knee bent is really weird. Dr Light adds to the fire and then we’ve got all the bad-guys hit by a mysterious green pallor.

Page 4-5. The superheroes arrive! And thankfully, they are all ready to kick ass. Except for Red Tornado, who is doing his rendition of C-3P0 in Cloud City.

Let’s look at expressions. Guys first: Batman is pissed. Red Arrow is even angrier (I can only assume he’s finally realizing how dumb his new code name really is.) John Stewart is getting into full-on USMC-mode. Which is amazing, since that’s an entirely different continuity. Geo-Force is rubbing off a bit of manly blood from his face. His expression says “Okay, you got me one. Now it’s my turn.”

For the gals, it’s not quite the same. Clenched teeth, perhaps, but only slightly. Those cheeks aren’t tightened up at all. In some fashion, Hawkgirl, Vixen, and Wonder Woman all look somewhat angry. Black Canary, though, just looks kinda there. Her lips are a bit pouty, face kinda slack, and eyes looking a bit vacantly off into the distance.

She’s the leader, remember.

Poses talk!

Batman: I am just getting out of these bindings. Then I will start to hit you a lot.

Red Arrow: God, where the fuck is Brad Meltzer so I can shoot him for saddling me with this name?

Green Lantern: You took your best shot! Now its our turn.

Geo-Force: Not bad. But not good enough, bad-guys. I can hit harder than you.

Vixen: Let me start to punch from WAY in the back! Honest, I’m not telegraphing anything!

Hawkgirl: Hey, Cheetah! I can do that same exact stance! Except I don’t have claws.

Woder Woman: Look at my lasso! And tits! Hey, I might be able to do a sorta-jab from here!

Black Canary: I have a fist! And also a butt! And tits! Do you like my 90s-era X-Men Jacket? Wait, why am I facing in the general direction of Red Tornado! I’ll look over at that wall! Or perhaps the ceiling!

From this point forth, the art in the issue becomes asstastic. In fact, it’s like Butt Cleavage: The Movie, starring Dinah Lance.

Page 6. Dinah attempts to be the leader by issuing the very specific order of “Take them down hard.” Generic, sure, and what they were already going to do, but some have said that a good leader only needs to see what the followers were going to do anyway and to get out in front.

She screams. Good use of her powers for a pre-emptive strike. Bad use of her costume for showing us her butt. Canary rebukes Firestorm for trying to be too cute. Icicle, Cheshire, and Cheetah try to fight. Mr. Freeze and Deathstroke cut and run.

Wonder Woman shows off the butt-cleavage of her own, before…

Page 7. Wondy takes out Icicle.

Hawkgirl and Red Arrow flirt.

Cheshire gets away, but not before looking back and thrusting her ass back for one last provocation.

Page 8. However, Roy is an idiot and didn’t see it. Geez, man! After all the work that went into that and you had to miss it? What do you think these women are here for anyway?

Cheetah has Black Lightning at her mercy, but seems to be unsure of how to hold him. Her hands move around with every panel, which leads me to believe she really doesn’t know about submission techniques.

Then again, she’s barely got him held at all. In panel 3, it’s like she’s gently caressing his head. Must not want to wake him up I suppose. However, she says she’s going to rip his throat out. If that’s the case, I’d expect her to, I dunno, actually hold onto his throat?

Oh, well, he wakes up anyway and shocks her! Crisis averted.

Amazingly, as she’s flung back from the attack, her butt does not lead the way. However, it can’t be that bad, because while she’s squinting in pain, her mouth is in the exact same, slightly angry, smooth-cheeked expression as panel 3.

Page 9. Dr Light is attacking Green Lantern with an apparently nonexistant attack that still causes his cape to billow out. Even so, GL’s feeling the brunt of this from behind his shield.

Fatality glows menacingly from behind while Red Arrow looks like he’s going to shoot off into the distance.

Wonder Woman flies away, ass-beckoning all the while.

Oh, wait, Roy was just fooling! He shoots Fatality in the hand. After a little interchange to show each-other how bad-ass they are, Firestorm comes in and clocks her with a giant tennis racquet. Fatality flies off into the distance, spread eagled.

See, it’s a minor bit, but she’s going away, why does her body say “Come to me, my love!”

Page 10. Wonder Woman kicks Grodd’s butt. KRAK! THOK! WHUDD!

Damn, but isn’t her butt good looking?

Feel that dissonance? Textually, we’ve got a superheroine beating the crap out of a brilliant, talking gorilla. Artistically, we’ve got a butt-shot, mid-page.

Page 11. Black Canary faces off against Giganta and comes out on tap in two attacks. Giganta attacks, Canary dodges, breaks her thumb, and then uses her scream to wonderful effect. BOOM, down.

A bit marred by the opening butt-shot, which -might be forgivable if only based on the disparate sizes of the pair. You know what would be cooler, though? An over-the shoulder shot from Giganta’s point of view, making Canary look so small and overshadowed.

From there, the way Canary so totally dominates the exchange is that much more delicious.

Textually, Canary makes a few cracks about Giganta’s weight and wardrobe.

Page 12. Vixen takes out some lava guy I can’t remember. I honestly have no idea what’s going on here, because panels 1 and 2 are so muddled together. Which is which? I honestly don’t know because every character is showing up in both.

Then she kisses Superman to give him his powers back. Superman is very confused by this.

I’m somewhat tickled because I remember back in my X-Men reading days, Rogue would take everyone’s powers with a kiss. It was ridiculous then, and it’s ridiculous now. From the “Kiss him” directive bubble, I imagine there’ll be more story to this, though.

On the other hand, I’m a bit confused. I thought she, like Animal Man, just kinda copied other abilities. Now she steals them? Weirdly undefined powers and abilities FTW, perhaps?

Page 13. I’ve noticed in this issue that many scenes seem to bleed over into the pages around them, either one panel sneaking into the previous page (see page 10), or, like here, one sneaking into the next. I’m not sure why it’s happening, because it doesn’t help the flow of the issue.

In any case, next we have a single panel of Hawkgirl and Ivy about to go at it. That’s it, just one panel, no dialogue, nothing. It’s like our eyes were taken across it while we looked from Superman and Vixen’s confused smooch to…

Fatality blasts Red Arrow! She hates his new name, too! And the arrows sticking out of her arm. Which GL helpfully explains is prosthetic. Thus it’s able operate at full functionality until destroyed.

It’s always confused me. You take a high tech piece of machinery, like an arm, do incredible amounts of damage to it, and it continues to function. Remember all the times Cable’s arm took so much damage it had an aura of permanent sparks shooting out of it? But the arm was fine, sure.

Not like those weak, fleshy things that would stop after only one little puncture wound. Unless you’re manly, in which case it’ll just annoy you.

What follows is a long conversation between Firestorm, Black Lightning, and Red Tornado about getting Reddy up and running again. Despite being the most advanced android on the planet, Red Tornado has no ability to emote, as he has the exact same expression in five different panels. Or perhaps they removed that crucial ability when they pulled him apart. I don’t know.

Firestorm, despite being one of the most powerful beings around, cannot put Reddy back together again. We’ll ignore the fact that Reddy, as established in the first storyline of this run of JLA, has an amazing self-repair program. I’m pretty sure that, much like Legos, if you just put Arm A into slot B, he’d be up and running in as little as one reboot.

This conversation runs through Page 14, which ends when everyone gets bored of the talking and asks for more whacky again.

Page 15. Grodd attacks. Firestorm creates a brick wall out of nothing. Grodd smashes wall.

And the big one hits. San Francisco is GONE! The Teen Titans are working overtime to save the City by the Bay which leaves the JLA to take care of this problem on their own.

Okay, maybe not, but something starts rumbling.

As Grodd attacks, though, Reddy goes flying in many different directions. Hilarious.

Page 16. Geo-Force, ignoring decades of geology research, opens a fissure in the earth, which swallows Grodd and closes.

I really can’t say much more than that. The pit was apparently bottomless, which makes me wonder if, in addition to earth-shaping powers, he has the ability to make the earth hollow.

Nest Dr Light has apparently been beaten. His non-existant attack must have backlashed and caused some undetermined hurty.

Cheetah wakes him up, saying they’ve got to get going, as the cause is lost. The shot of her waking him up is odd, though. Why did she toss her hair over to one side? Why is she looking away? Does she not care for him? Not want to see if he’s been wounded.

Also, I’m struck by the inconvenience of having a tail. If it means you’ve got to cut the back of your pants to sit just at the top of the butt-crack, I’m not sure I’d want one, no matter the advantages.

Or you could just cut a whole, I suppose.

In any case, Cheetah helps him up and away until…

Page 17. The coolest fucking moment in the entire book. Cheetah backstabs (back…scratches?) Light and lays into him like the rapist he is. Light is apparently surprised that she’d feel angered by his tendency to get all pelvic-thrusty at the poor and underpowered because she kills people.

So does he. In any case, Cheetah delivers the killing blow. I’m a bit confused by this killing blow, since it seems to be a fairly weak swipe. If you have pointy claws, wouldnt it make more sense to do a thrusting, stabby-type motion? Get the force generated by the shoulder and body rather than the forearm and elbow? That would really cause the attack to hit and then puncture, which is going to make someone’s day a lot more difficult to finish than a series of scraping cuts. They may be deep, but they won’t do nearly so much damage.

Or would, until Wonder Woman stops her and shows off some ass-cleavage. Apparently killing isn’t okay, but butt-shots are.

Let’s look at this page and take stock. We’ve got Dr. Light, who would happily rape and murder every female in the DCU. We’ve got Cheetah, who would happily kill anyone who gets in her way. (Although, to be fair, she’s apparently not very good at it, since this is twice she’s gone and done things poorly.)

And we’ve got Wonder Woman, who killed Max Lord on world-wide television (The Brother Eye Network! Fresh from the supers to you 24-7! Eye Am Standing By!)

Dr Light seems miles worse than Max Lord, but what do I know.

Page 18. Wonder Woman apparently is not going to take down Cheetah. Firestorm will do that.

Luthor finally starts to fight, trading blasts with GL. Superman shows up and distracts Luthor enough for GL and… GL to hold Luthor down. (Where did Hal come from? Left field, apparently.) Why it takes two GLs to generate two hands to hold down Luthor, I don’t know.

Page 19. Oh, Hal came from another solar system. While Flash couldn’t make it.

Luthor is going to kill Superman. Because, despite his brilliant financial and scientific mind, he thinks his best plan is going toe-to-toe with one of the five most powerful beings on the planet in a physical showdown.

Supes understands that Luthor is being really, really dumb and breaks the armor.

Ah, but Luthor has another plan! What is it? Stay tuned because all will be revealed… sometime. Probably in some other book.

Page 20. VICTOLY! Beatdowns completed, Black Canary takes this moment to show off her AMAZING butt for all and sundry. She even uses here-to-fore unknown telekinetic powers to hold Joker in mid-air so she can thrust her ass.

See, Batman! You can’t lead the JLA, for you do not have an awesome posterior.

Batman apparently doesn’t think much of this, as he disobeyed Canary.

Then Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad show up to take all the villains and chuck them into Salvation Run.

Now, I’m behind a bit on Checkmate, but it seems to me that if you’ve been given a dictate NOT to run any operations, but you want to do so, showing up face-to-face with some of the most public superheroes on the planet with your covert operations team might not be the best plan.

Bad, Amanda. No cookie for you.

Page 21. Canary shrugs and hands off the bad guys.

Page 22. Hal reminds Canary of an impending wedding. She leaves to get written completely out of character by Judd Winick and then to stab Ollie in the neck.

Also, any villains who weren’t contained here are apparently going to attack again, just to interrupt the festivities. I wonder if any who were captured are going to magically teleport out to break up the party and then get back before anyone notices so they can still show up in time for Salvation Run.

Then Batman ignores the fact that she’s in charge even more and insists Firestorm is on the team. Black Lightning acknowledges Batman’s powers of the divine, then Superman and Wonder Woman continue this undermining of Canary’s position.

And the issue abruptly ends.

So, here we are. On one hand, I liked some things here. A lot of fun, whammy action and fighting, where a number of heroines (and even one villianess) got to lay out some serious smackdown.

On the other hand, the writing remained a bit weak. Nothing really got resolved, which is disappointing, since this seemed like it was going to be a big storyline. Since everything is apparently going elsewhere for resolution, I begin to wonder what the hell the point of JLA is.

See, back when Grant Morrison did JLA, it was very clear. These were going to be stories showcasing the most awesome of awesome heroes saving the world from bigger and bigger threats. The Hyperclan. Darkseid. Vandel Savage. The Injustice Gang. Early JLA was a book full of fun awesome. It proudly declared that it was the paragon book for the DCU. If you wanted the biggest and best adventures, you had to read them there.

They were stories that were so big, no one hero could contain them.

What is Justice League of America, though? Look at the team, even now, over a year since the book started, I’m not entirely sure who’s on the roster, who’s in charge, or even what their purpose is. They have a worse logo, a less cool HQ, and worst of all the book seems to be little more than a fill in the gaps title.

Seriously, why the fuck is this story dovetailing into Salvation Run and the BC/GA wedding special? This is the Justice League. They come, they kick ass, they go home and deal with their own problems in their own books. End of story.

As written, it’s like just another in the innumerable books DC is putting out that hint at bigger things going on.

I don’t think this is McDuffie’s fault. He’s just the writer on the one book, after all. DC is in the midst of a four+ year epic crossover event. that’s likely going to last until NEXT December.

Things are getting so messy that what should arguably be the biggest book, the centerpiece of the entire DCU line feels like a fill-in afterthought. Like “Oh, yeah, what the hell do they do when they aren’t in their own books?”

Still, McDuffie does do some things well. See the fun whacky action and girls kicking butt.

It’s totally undermined by Benes’ art, though. The number of cleavage-prone butt-shots from the girls in this issue is nearly disturbing fetish-levels. I can appreciate a nice derriere, but I don’t need to see them trying to suck their costumes into their rectums. It’s just too much, and not really appealing.

PLUS, and I don’t know if I’m the only one who has observed this, but I don’t think it’s really comfortable. Think about it. Go to a swimming pool and watch the ladies, On occasion, they’ll reach back with their fingers, grab the hems of the legs and pull a little bit.

Skintight clothes have a tendency to ride up a little bit, and there’s a reaction to reverse the process.

Apparently, among their numerous fighting abilities, the ladies of the DCU have no nerve endings down there, because they aren’t so bothered.

Or, alternatively, Benes is a crap artist.

All that butt-kicking? That’s sexy. Black Canary being strong and taking out Giganta in two seconds flat? Sexy. Wonder Woman laying the smack-down on Grodd? Sexy. Cheetah realizing how bad Light really is, and providing some visceral “HOO YEAH!” from the reader? Sexy. And Awesome.

The art? Ugly, sexist tripe which doesn’t do the text any favors. And as muddled as the DCU is, the text is needing a lot of help.