Quick and Dirty Review: M

December 29, 2010

Martha Washington

So. 2010. How do you remember it? Martha Washington remembers it as the year she joined the youth-pax corps. This is after President Rexall repealed the two-term ammendment, created cordoned-off slum housing, which systematicallyled to young Martha’s life being entirely hell. I mean it. Death of family, death of the few other responsible adults around, her commitment to an overcrowded insane asylum … But things must be looking up, right? Rexall’s in a coma, his replacement is a great guy, Martha’s in the corps, saving the rainforest – it is all now looking up?

‘Course not.

In brief, this is Frank Miller’s monster-future dystopia. Set in the future & free from the DC universe, this, much like The Dark Knight Strikes Again, lacks a lot of the requisite subtlety of The Dark Knight Returns. Where a softer hand in returns made for a wonderfully nuanced masterpiece, Miller’s later works (including All-Star Batman and Robin, I hear) feature shock-and-horror controversy that read as pretty tired after a while. Martha Washington is interestingly written, but this is overshadowed at times by how much it has aged in the intervening years.

Because it is the 1980s writing the 2010s, a thinly-veiled Reaganish madman presides over issues of pollution, oil refineries, the Amazon rainforest, Native American reservations and so on. It isn’t impossible for comics of thirty years ago to tackle today’s issues – but it is much harder when the commentary is composed of cultural figures thrust forward in time, bound and gagged. This is a pretty hallucinatory world, which at the one time wants to be taken seriously, at another has a robot Surgeon General get kicked off a jet for fun.

A landscape of madness, the first Martha Washington series charts an America shredded at the seams. Interesting, but a little too on the nose. To quote Neil Gaiman: “Normally journalists would point out how very filled with politics all the other British writers of the school of eighty-something were, and that Sandman wasn’t. And why is that? And I would hesitantly suggest that I thought that Sandman might have been a bit more political than they thought, and they would say no, it definitely wasn’t; where was Margaret Thatcher, after all, and why hadn’t I shown her eating babies with her vampire teeth?”


Quick and Dirty Review: I

December 21, 2010

I Kill Giants:

Given that my one reader recommended this to me, and that I read it right after reading a terrible something else I’d mistook for this, I’m biased. But what the hey!

This is an inspiring story. The landscape of the story is ostensibly one we know from the classic ‘weird-kid, is-it-real?’ plot, but the specific geography is delightfully just-off this. A by-turns dark, funny, tragic and terrifying story, the off-kilter, expressive art matches this sentiment. And the giant. The titan. It really is a good, self-contained story and I really hope these guys do more stuff together.


So, what happens when a supervillain testifies against his employers and enter the witness protection program? They give him a new identity, make him take power-stripping drugs and stick him in an office job. And, when, bored with the job and everyday he turns to drugs, which interestingly cancel-out his power-nullifying pharmaceuticals? He becomes a superhero.

Ed Brubaker’s superhumans, in line with his noir/crime background, take on a grittiness without the grime (as opposed to The Boys, say, which is almost entirely grim grime and some grit). The effect is mirrored in the backstory of the world, where all modern superhumans have evolved from a 1930s pulp sensibility, rather than the intervening comics/capes era. There seems to have been a call on to strip away the fliers, the speedsters, the cosmic questers. Doc Savage writ large, this is crime comics with a heavy, palpable reflection in an art not afraid of its darks. The scale is subtly larger as a result, because the idea of people having to react to these terrifyingly powerful people – ‘science villains/agents’ – is somewhat more relatable. It isn’t easy to measure the morality of each character, with plenty of grey on the good, used-to-be-brainwashers side and the homicidal-maniac-saves-her-double-dealing-friend side. There are some solid reveals and a fairly satisfying, if predictable ending. If nothing else, the informative essay on a pulp hero at the end of each issue was worth the read – hopefully the Bad Influences sequel is as good.


I’ve read the first 60 issues and found it outstanding. The art is very energetic – though, be warned, on a few occasions it portrays outright head-exploding punches – blood and eyeballs stuff. The plotting is immense, yet concise – small, two or four pages pieces amid the main action build into later major plots so naturally in an ingenious manner. The long, slow parts and quick, smashing parts are very well measured for what they portray. The stuff of multi-issue arcs can be covered efficiently and emotively in a few panels, the assumptions we make about other comics recur and are made prominent. I think it maintains a very good story about a young superhero finding his feet, while also becoming and almost-ensemble piece about a world of superheroes. An Image title, like Dynamo 5, there is the same impression that superheroics, rather than an alter ego, might slowly become a legitimate identity rather than a shadow in the lives of these characters. There is also a continuing stream of clever writing resulting in fairly sharp superheroes – highlighted in asks an alien, who attacks earth every few years like clockwork, ‘why?’ and resolving it where his father, Omni-Man hadn’t.

All for the letter ‘I’ there. And that is 55o.

Quick and Dirty Review

December 20, 2010

As (a) times is short and (b) to avoid spoilers, I’ll give a quick mini-review of what I’ve been reading:

Atomic Robo:

Hellboy. No really. It has a science-bent, it is quite a bit lighter (in tone and art) and Atomic Robo came into being twenty years before Hellboy’s wartime origin, but Atomic Robo, the automatic man of Nikola Tesla inhabits pretty much the same idiom as Hellboy. He heads a world organisation looking into/producing the strange, his agents occassionally die and has deliciously hilarous dialogue while still building a wonderful, deep character. Actually is one of the few I’d recommend for children – and is educational, in its own manner. True, it has giant ants and talking dinosaurs – but it does goes into why these are patently impossible, while battling them all the same.

Captain Marvel – Power of Hope:

Looking for a Capt Marvel story to get a handle on the character, I came across this. Dini writing, Alex Ross drawing – it turns what should be the corniest story in creation into … a corny story, which is also really moving. Damn them and their making me feel feelings.

Common Grounds:

Honestly, I’ve looked into this, but I can’t find any writer or artist crossover from Astro City to this series, but by golly you’d think it was Busiek & Anderson – and I mean that in the best possible way. It is an expressly smart and interesting miniseries about a ‘Common Grounds’, a coffee-shop chain set up so suerhumans, of evil and good varieties, can meet to eat without fighting. They get six great stories out of this premise – with Astro City introspection and invention -, perhaps the most moving ones being the one about Blackwatch and Captain Power, and the one about how, and why, the chain was founded.

Dynamo 5:

A patently great series, I think. It starts off running; Captain Dynamo has died and, it is revealed, he had a great many extramarital affairs. His widow has assembled five of his heirs and exposes them to a radiation that gave him his powers (which, when exposed to humans without his DNA, fries them). They each get one of his five powers (probably due being exposed at an older age, though it is convenient they all got seperate ones, eh?). And you’re dumped straight into this, and in this instance I don’t think that is a bad thing. It gets past the start cliches to built a strong ensemble book. With the differing ages and lives of the characters, it really comes together in clever ways – So much so that in the couple of instances of idiocy on the part of the characters that occur in the 25-issue run, it is far more jarring than in other comics.


Okay, adult content is here, straight off the bat. To put it in perspective, the series’ creator basically began to write stories for the fanservice sketches he was often commissioned to draw of female superheroes in distressed and trussed up situations.

If that was all, or even the single prominently dominant part of Empowered, I wouldn’t bring it up here.

The Empowered universe is interesting. Drawn in a manga style, the superhuman costume design is both distinct enough to tell its origin from ten paces, while being internally individually enough to make the characters distinct from one another. The sheer scale of worldbuilding is also distinct – heroes get buried in massive subterranean vaults, most get their abilities from a disease or devil’s deal and colleges teach courses in superhero studies.

‘Emp’ is also interesting. She has the Venom superpower – parasite costume that gives her super abilities. Except it tears. Like paper. Causing her to lose powers, dignity and freedom. Often. Quite possibly because poor self-image causes a psychosomatic weakness in the suit. And, frankly, I agree with other fans that we don’t need several such short stories to reinforce it every volume. The move to serious, book-length story archs are what – not redeem, justify is better. Everyone in the world is as emotionally, hopelessly compromised as EMP is. And she is screwed up.

Basically, she can’t not be a superhero. In a world of self-involved capes, she needs to save people. Even if it is mortifying, even if it is unrewarding and life-threatening – if she can save people, she has to fight. This is the heart of the character. I can’t stress the power in this storytelling enough. I remember reading parts of ‘Whom the Gods Wish to Destroy’. Basically Superman is transformed into a blonde, human woman by a capricious god. The gender flip is just the icing on the evil cake – the issue is Superman is mortal, his enemies know and they will kill him. And he is handed a gun to defend himself. And he refuses it. Because he is Superman. That is a justifying heart of a character.

That said- this series better damn well end with Emp being permanently powered up as and publicly recognised as the world’s greatest superhero. For damn straight.

The content, particularly, is mostly tastefully implied nudity and lusty librarian outfits. The tied-up positions are suggestive, and one scene has a bare bottom as I recall. So, I’d skip to the last volume or two, where it has been significantly toned down, if you can’t get past that.

Ex Machina:

World’s only superhero becomes Mayor of New York in 2002. Gadgeteer genius the Great Machine hangs up the jet pack to run in 2001 after becoming convinced that he could be far more useful as a politician – and is elected for strapping on the pack one last on 9/11. A 50 issue series, I wish Vaughn had gone longer on this. It is a clever, informed, surprisingly balanced look at everything from politics to superheroics. It is interdimensional alien invasions in the same house as the West Wing type conversations and they don’t even argue over the newspaper.

So. A-E. Seeya soon!

Top Search Keywords

December 7, 2010

Yeah, I’ll get to the reviews when I get a minute, but for now:


demotivational bulimia,


red haired male freckled ukulele player,


airship pirates,

Okay, fair point, quite a bit of that … 

“if you want to see tomorrow” “doctor who”,

And that is pretty nice …. 

scewer cutlass

What! Pirates, maybe?